With Trump, fu­ture of pipe­line rules un­cer­tain

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Matthew Brown and James MacPher­son

billings, mont.» Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is ex­pected to push through long-de­layed safety mea­sures for the na­tion’s sprawl­ing network of oil pipe­lines in its fi­nal days, de­spite re­sis­tance from in­dus­try and con­cern that Pres­i­den­t­elect Don­ald Trump may scut­tle them.

The mea­sures are aimed at pre­vent­ing in­creas­ingly fre­quent ac­ci­dents such as a 176,000-gal­lon spill that fouled a North Dakota creek this month. Thou­sands more ac­ci­dents dur­ing the past decade caused $2.5 bil­lion dam­age na­tion­wide and dumped al­most 38 mil­lion gal­lons of fu­els.

Fights over pipe­lines have in­ten­si­fied in re­cent years, il­lus­trated by the dis­pute over Tran­sCanada’s Key­stone XL plan and ef­forts by Amer­i­can In­di­ans to stop the Dakota Ac­cess Pipe­line from cross­ing be­neath the Mis­souri River near the Stand­ing Rock Sioux Reser­va­tion.

The U.S. Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion pro­posal cov­ers roughly 200,000 miles of lines that criss­cross the coun­try and carry crude, ga­so­line and other haz­ardous liq­uids.

Environmental and safety ad­vo­cates have crit­i­cized the agency’s com­mit­ment to tight­en­ing over­sight of that network af­ter a key safety fea­ture — au­to­matic valves that quickly shut down rup­tured lines — was omit­ted from a draft rule pub­lished in 2015.

Fur­ther re­vi­sions sought by the petroleum in­dus­try could make the rule largely in­ef­fec­tive, said Carl Weimer of the Pipe­line Safety Trust. But keep­ing the pro­posal in­tact would ex­pose it to a le­gal chal­lenge or re­ver­sal by a Repub­li­can-con­trolled Congress and Trump, an en­thu­si­as­tic ad­vo­cate for fos­sil fu­els whose ad­min­is­tra­tion would en­force the new safety pro­vi­sions, Weimer added.

“We al­ready viewed it as an in­cre­men­tal step. If they water it down at all or ex­tend the time­lines, it’s go­ing to be an even smaller step,” he said.

Reg­u­la­tors be­gan craft­ing the new rule af­ter a 2010 Michi­gan pipe­line break re­leased al­most 1 mil­lion gal­lons of crude into the Kala­ma­zoo River. It’s lan­guished amid in­dus­try crit­i­cisms, in­ter­ven­tions from Congress and the bu­reau­cratic in­er­tia of the fed­eral reg­u­la­tory process.

A re­cent boom in do­mes­tic drilling saw ac­ci­dent rates for pipe­lines in­crease by roughly a third. The num­ber of haz­ardousliq­uid pipe­line ac­ci­dents in the U.S. in­creased from 350 in 2010 to 462 in 2015.

The Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment pro­posal calls for tougher in­spec­tion and re­pair cri­te­ria, leak de­tec­tion sys­tems on more lines and other mea­sures to cut risk. Com­pa­nies also would be re­quired to in­spect lines af­ter flood­ing or other ex­treme events, a pro­vi­sion adopted af­ter a 2011 ExxonMo­bil pipe­line break spilled 63,000 gal­lons of crude into Mon­tana’s Yel­low­stone River.

It’s un­der re­view by the White House Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get.

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