Pipeline Self-monitoring - If This Train Is Moving, Why Isn’t the Scenery Changing? (p. 3)

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on Sep 21, 2010 in Wrongful Death

In our last two posts, we talked about the pipeline disaster in San Bruno, California. The explosion has brought the issue of pipeline safety to the forefront, especially in states like West Virginia that may have older pipes or pipes made of metals like cast-iron that are more prone to corrosion than steel. It turns out that most of the safety inspections and remedial efforts are managed by the utilities themselves, and critics point out that there could be competing priorities for these companies as they develop inspection and repair schedules.

Congress put its two cents in back in 2002 when it passed a law requiring utilities to inspect pipelines in heavily populated areas. As a result, inspectors found more than 3,000 problems by 2007. Which makes you wonder about the stability of the system overall.

Critics of self-policing point out that the timeline for inspections has been changed since the original bill was passed - lines can now go 10 or 15 years between inspections.

But what about the 3,000 problems they found? The federal and state governments generally rely on the utility companies to determine what kind of repair to make and then set their own timeline. A California regulator commented that consumer protection laws and agencies exist to govern what the pipeline owners do but not how they go about it. The government isn't there to tell them how to run their businesses.

The gas industry emphasizes that safety comes first in all cases. Critics, however, counter that replacement costs for long stretches of pipeline can run to $30 million or more - they wonder if safety isn't maybe on a par with the bottom line.

In San Bruno, the utility announced it has set aside as much as $100 million to help the community recover. The residents who lost their loved ones, who lost their homes, who were seriously injured - those people may want to know that this won't happen again in another unsuspecting neighborhood.

Resource: Fox News "Aging Gas Pipes at Risk of Erupting Nationwide" 9/14/10

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