Aging, Decrepit U.S. Pipelines Overwhelm Inspectors, Pose Safety Problems

Keeping up with millions of miles of onshore oil and gas pipelines is a daunting task, one that seems to be overwhelming U.S. officials, Reuters reports.

The 2.5 million miles of onshore U.S. pipelines are in desperate need of safety upgrades, critics say. In 2009, the nation posted a six-year high of 47 serious incidents, those in which someone is killed or injured. This year, since May, there have been three major onshore oil spills, and a gas line explosion in San Bruno, Calif., that killed eight people.

The problems most often emerge on older pipelines — a big problem for the U.S., where many pipelines were built in the 1960s and putting pipelines out of service is quite rare. The San Bruno explosion, for example, occurred on a pipeline that was 54 years old.

Following BP’s Gulf of Mexico spill, Reuters noted, oil companies face a torrent of new offshore rules, but some advocates say making pipelines on land safer is just as urgent.

Some politicians have introduced legislation to remedy the problems. One bill in Congress would increase the number of federal safety inspectors by 30 percent, while also raising the maximum fine for violating safety standards from $1 million to $2.5 million.

States take the lead in regulating many smaller pipelines, though many are no better staffed for inspections than the federal government.

“Every day we delay strong pipeline safety reforms is one we put ourselves at risk,” said Rick Kessler of Pipeline Safety Trust, a group that advocates more rigorous safety rules.

Pipeline accidents also impose a significant economic cost. Oil spiked by almost $4 per barrel following a massive spill in Romeoville, Ill., in September and, during an eight-day shutdown of the 41 year-old line, Chicago gasoline prices rose 25 cents a gallon.

Related Posts:
San Bruno Blast Casts Doubt on Methods Used to Identify Vulnerable Pipelines
After California Pipeline Explosion, Obama Proposes Tougher Regulation

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