Oil pipe­line safety rule scaled back

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Matthew Brown

BILLINGS, MONT. >> Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion scaled back new safety mea­sures for the sprawl­ing net­work of fuel pipe­lines that crisscross the United States on Fri­day, fol­low­ing oil in­dus­try com­plaints that they would cost com­pa­nies bil­lions of dol­lars.

The long-de­layed reg­u­la­tions cover al­most 200,000 miles of pipe­lines that trans­port oil, gaso­line and other haz­ardous liq­uids.

Pipe­line com­pa­nies now will be re­quired to con­duct more rig­or­ous in­spec­tions of lines in ru­ral ar­eas and in­stall leak de­tec­tion sys­tems that are meant to speed up emer­gency re­sponse times when ac­ci­dents oc­cur.

An ear­lier ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­posal for com­pa­nies to im­me­di­ately re­pair cracks and other prob­lems in their lines was dropped, draw­ing crit­i­cism from safety ad­vo­cates.

Doc­u­ments show the pipe­line re­pair cri­te­ria was al­tered to give com­pa­nies more flex­i­bil­ity fol­low­ing a De­cem­ber 12 meet­ing of of­fi­cials from the Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment and White House and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the oil in­dus­try.

The Amer­i­can Petroleum In­sti­tute com­plained that the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s orig­i­nal pro­posal for re­pairs, un­veiled in late 2015, was too strin­gent and would cost com­pa­nies al­most $3 bil­lion over the next decade. The in­dus­try group ar­gued the high price tag out­weighed any ben­e­fits from ac­ci­dents averted.

“Based on in­for­ma­tion no one else was privy to, they weak­ened the fi­nal rule,” said Carl Weimer with the Pipe­line Safety Trust, an ad­vo­cacy group based in Belling­ham, Washington. “We hope there’s still enough to pre­vent more of the types of spills we’ve seen over the past four or five years.”

The trust was formed af­ter three chil­dren were killed when a gaso­line pipe­line broke in 1999, leak­ing fuel for 1½ hours be­fore it ex­ploded.

Thou­sands of pipe­line ac­ci­dents over the past decade caused $2.5 bil­lion in dam­ages na­tion­wide and dumped al­most 38 mil­lion gal­lons of fu­els.

John Stoody with the As­so­ci­a­tion of Oil Pipe­lines said it was im­por­tant for com­pa­nies to have enough flex­i­bil­ity in re­pairs that they can con­cen­trate their work in ar­eas where spills could cause the most harm, such as in cities or be­neath wa­ter bod­ies.

“We should put re­sources where we have the most im­pact on pipe­line safety,” Stoody said. His group was still ex­am­in­ing Fri­day’s an­nounce­ment and Stoody de­clined to say if it would chal­lenge any of the re­main­ing changes.

The new reg­u­la­tions go into ef­fect in roughly six months, mean­ing mem­bers of Congress and the in­com­ing Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion could seek to block or mod­ify them.

Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment spokes­woman Al­lie Aguil­era said the gov­ern­ment and in­dus­try were “on the same page on safety,” sug­gest­ing there would be no need to over­turn the rule.

Pre­vi­ous in­dus­try reg­u­la­tions ap­plied pri­mar­ily to lines in so-called high con­se­quence ar­eas with large pop­u­la­tions or en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive fea­tures such as drink­ing wa­ter sup­plies.

SCOTT STOCKDILL — NORTH DAKOTA DEPART­MENT OF HEALTH VIA AP, FILE

This is an oil spill from the Belle Fourche Pipe­line that was dis­cov­ered in Ash Coulee Creek, a trib­u­tary of the Lit­tle Mis­souri River, near Belfield, N.D.

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