Monday, June 16, 2014

HR 4687 Introduced – Pipeline Inspections

As I noted last month Rep. Hahn (D,CA) introduced HR 4687, the Pipeline Inspection Enforcement Act of 2014. This bill is intended to close a gap in the pipeline inspection process during the transfer of pipelines from one company to another. It was inspired by the recent March 17th crude oil spill in Wilmington, CA. It would amend 49 USC 60108.

Section 2 of the bill would add new paragraphs (e) and (f) to §60108. Paragraph (e) would require the Secretary of Transportation to establish regulations governing the inspection of pipelines that are purchased by a new owner. The regulations would require an inspection within 180 days of the date of sale. The inspections would be conducted both by the person purchasing the pipeline and the regulatory agency responsible for inspecting pipelines in that State.

Paragraph (f) would address the issue of ‘abandoned’ pipelines. It would require a similar set of inspections for any pipeline that is newly listed as ‘abandoned’. The inspections would be done by “the regulatory authority responsible for inspections of the facility, together with the person owning or operating the facility” {§60108(f)}.

The term ‘abandoned’ is defined in the current USC as “permanently removed from service” {§60108(c)(1)(A)}, but that definition only applies to underwater pipelines. This bill probably should have been included a definition that would have included language that that ‘abandoned’ also requires the pipeline to be empty of hazardous materials. Simply inspecting the ‘abandoned’ pipeline in Wilmington may not have ended up with it being emptied (though I would certainly like to think that it would have been done if that had been discovered before the spill).

If this bill can get a hearing it would almost certainly pass in Committee and on the Floor of the House or Senate. This is a very good candidate for being added to PHMSA authorizing legislation.

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