President Obama signed a comprehensive update to our nation’s pipeline safety laws into law on January 3, 2012. Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and former Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-MI) teamed up to develop legislation that was later combined with proposals from the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the U.S. Senate to develop this final, bipartisan legislation. After a number of serious pipeline safety failures in recent years, including one that affected the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, Congress took meaningful steps to step up penalties if spills do occur and to help prevent them from happening in the first place.
The new law includes the following provisions to enhance public safety protections:
- Increase maximum fines for safety violations from $100,000 to $200,000 and for a series of violations from $1 million to $2 million.
- Require new transmission pipelines to use automatic or remote-controlled shut-off valves so leaks or ruptures are stopped quickly and safely.
- Expand “integrity management requirements” – the most intensive of inspection requirements – to areas beyond which they are currently mandated while phasing out obsolete and redundant “class location requirements.”
- Enhance the quality and public awareness of the National Pipeline Mapping System.
- Require leak detection standards for liquid pipelines. This is a direct response to problems experienced in the Michigan spill where the operator was unable to confirm a leak existed for over 12 hours.
- Require pipeline operators to notify federal authorities of an incident within one hour of its discovery.
- Direct the Department of Transportation to review liquid pipeline regulations and determine if they are sufficient for pipelines transporting oil sands crude.
- Require gas transmission line operators to verify the maximum allowable operating pressure of their pipelines. A lack of information on MAOP led directly to the explosion and tragedy in San Bruno, CA.
- Direct the Department of Transportation to review requirements for pipelines buried underneath waterways and report legislative recommendations to improve existing law if it is merited.
- Prohibit numerous exemptions from state-administered “Call-Before-You-Dig” programs.