U.S. officials are adopting a long-delayed rule aimed at reducing deaths and environmental damage from oil and gas pipeline ruptures.
Billings, Mont. – U.S. officials on Monday adopted a long-delayed rule aimed at reducing deaths and environmental damage from oil and gas pipeline ruptures in response to deadly explosions and widespread outbreaks in California, Michigan and other states.
But security attorneys say the U.S. Department of Transportation’s move does not prevent accidents that prompted the rule because it only applies to new pipelines – and not the few thousand miles that have already crossed the country.
As a rule, companies are required to install valves that can quickly stop the flow of oil, natural gas or other hazardous fuels if the pipeline ruptures. It came in response to a massive gas explosion in San Bruno, California, which killed eight people in 2010 and spilled large amounts of oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan and the Yellowstone River in Montana, among others.
To reduce the severity of accidents, since 1990 the National Transportation Safety Board has recommended the use of automatic or remote controlled valves in large pipelines – whether existing or new – to reduce the severity of accidents.
But pipeline companies resisted the need for new valves because of the cost and concerns of installing them, which could cause them to shut down accidentally and cut off fuel supplies.
Transportation Secretary Pete Butigig said the industry needed tougher regulations because many people were affected by the pipeline failure.
He said the installation of the valve would also protect against the large release of methane, an extremely powerful greenhouse gas that helps drive climate change.
“Today we are taking an important step to protect communities from dangerous pipeline leaks – preventing over-polluting methane leaks as well as helping save lives, property and jobs in every part of the country.” Dr. Butigig.
The Pipeline Safety Trust, a Bellingham-based Washington-based advocacy group, says the rule has made progress since Congress enacted more stringent pipeline regulations more than a decade ago.
But the group said the pipelines were already on the ground, meaning it would not prevent a recurrence of the accident in San Bruno, which involved a pipeline more than 60 years old.
Bill Carram, executive director of the Safety Trust, said: “This rule is much lower than the NTSB recommendation and would not provide any additional protection for the community living near existing pipelines.”
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