“I did a U-turn in the middle of the road and literally drove the wrong way on the interstate. I had my hazard lights on flashing, just trying to tell people to get out of the way,” she said.
There was oncoming traffic as she hugged the berm on the median.
“I didn’t care,” she said. “It wasn’t as bad as that explosion.”
Experts consider pipelines a safer way to move gas than rail, truck or barge, but gaps remain in regulatory oversight.
In January, President Barack Obama signed a law aimed at improving such oversight. The measure increased penalties for violations, required automatic shut-off valves on new pipelines and improved public access to safety information.
An advisory committee from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is meeting this near Washington, D.C., to discuss the law’s implementation.
The law was partly based on a bill co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the West Virginia Democrat who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee.
“Paramount to the success of America’s pipeline system,” he said a year ago this month, “is an unwavering commitment to safety.”
According to PHMSA, there are more than 2.6 million miles of pipeline crisscrossing the United States, of which 304,725 are natural gas transmission lines.
The network includes “gathering” lines that transport natural gas from well sites to compressor stations and other processing facilities, the 20- to 42-inch transmission lines that carry gas long distances, and distribution lines as small as 2 inches that carry gas into homes and businesses.
“No question about it, it’s by far the safest mode of transportation compared to anything and pretty much any way you want to measure it,” said Paul Oleksa, who runs a pipeline safety consulting company in Akron, Ohio.
In March, The Charleston Gazette reported, the U.S. Government Accountability Office warned that many gathering lines escape federal scrutiny and noted a “long-term pattern of understaffing” for pipeline safety at the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Remote locations contribute to the lack of scrutiny, the report said. In some cases, only about 10 percent of the lines are actually regulated.
From 2007 through 2011, pipeline accidents nationwide killed 21 workers and 47 other people, resulting in nearly $2.6 billion in property damage, according to PHMSA.
“I would say they’re very rare,” Oleksa said. “On the other hand, they are spectacular and the public has a fear of natural gas. So when something happens, it becomes big news and everybody is aware of it.”
In 2010 and 2011, a total of 13 people died when gas lines exploded in San Bruno, Calif., and Allentown, Pa.
Last month, more than 40 buildings, including a strip club and a day care center, were damaged in a natural gas explosion in western Massachusetts that injured 18 people, while two people were killed and several homes were destroyed in an explosion in Indianapolis that is being investigated as a homicide.
Pipeline operators are required to submit incident reports within 30 days of an occurrence.
“While many stakeholders agree that federal pipeline safety programs have been on the right track,” the Congressional Research Service said earlier this year, “the spate of recent pipeline incidents suggests there continues to be significant room for improvement.”<< previous 1 2