Posted: 22 Dec, 2016

Before closing shop, Obama's administration is expected to push through long-delayed safety measures for the nation's sprawling network of hazardous liquid pipelines. The US Department of Transportation proposal covers roughly 200,000 miles of lines that cross the country and carry crude, gasoline and other hazardous liquids.

Environmental and safety advocates have criticized the agency's commitment to tightening oversight of that network after a key safety feature - automatic valves that quickly shut down ruptured lines - was omitted from a draft rule published in 2015.

Further revisions sought by the petroleum industry could make the rule largely ineffective, said Carl Weimer with the Pipeline Safety Trust. But keeping the proposal intact would expose it to a legal challenge or reversal by a Republican-controlled Congress and President-Elect Trump, an enthusiastic advocate for fossil fuels whose administration would enforce the new safety provisions, Mr. Weimer added.

"We already viewed it as an incremental step. If they water it down at all or extend the timelines, it's going to be an even smaller step," he said.

A recent boom in domestic drilling saw accident rates for pipelines increase by roughly a third by the end 0f 2015. The number of hazardous liquid pipeline accidents in the US increased from 350 in 2010 to 462 in 2015. As the sun sets on 2016 the number of spills is a little less for this year. The most recent leak is 176,000-gallon Belle Fourche Pipeline spill near Belfield, North Dakota that occurred on December 5 on a line outside a high consequence area. True Companies of Casper, Wyoming, which owns the line reported that electronic monitoring equipment on the line failed to detect any problems.

The Transportation Department proposal calls for tougher inspection and repair criteria, leak detection systems on more lines and other measures to cut risk. Companies would also be required to inspect lines after flooding or other extreme events. Final adoption of the proposal is anticipated in late December.

Industry representatives argue it would cost companies 600 million dollars a year and almost 5 billion dollars over the next decade. That is almost 30 times the government's estimate of 22.5 million dollars annually.

The American Petroleum Institute acknowledged it was seeking revisions to the administration's safety proposal but declined to specify the changes it wants. In a 65-page cost-benefit analysis, the petroleum institute criticized federal officials for underestimating the costs and amount of work needed for companies to comply. The group described the rule as a "significant expansion of regulatory oversight".

Minimal federal oversight of pipelines in rural areas has left officials in some states overwhelmed with the task of policing the industry.

Pressured by landowners, farmers and environmentalists, North Dakota will put a state rule into effect on January 1 to increase inspections of smaller pipelines known as gathering lines. The federal proposal requires only that companies document spills from the lines.

Source: Associated Press