Aug 15, 2011: Markey: We Must Fully Implement Pipeline Safety Recos to Prevent Future Disasters

Lawmaker queries pipeline safety agency about unsatisfactory, ignored safety recommendations after recent accidents


WASHINGTON, D.C. – As Congress moves forward on legislation to reauthorize the federal Pipeline Safety Act, Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) inquiring about what controls the agency has put in place to ensure that safety recommendations are implemented by pipeline operators quickly and consistently. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is charged with issuing recommendations following investigations of accidents involving oil and gas pipelines. According to the NTSB database, between 2001 and 2011, more than 150 safety recommendations to addressees such as pipeline operators or the American Petroleum Institute were either closed after receiving an “unacceptable” response from the addressee or were closed without receiving any response at all from the operator. These recommendations included those made after the 2002 pipeline explosion in Indianapolis that left dozens homeless, as well as two outstanding pipeline safety recommendations stemming from the San Bruno, California gas explosion that killed 8 people in September 2010.

“Given the potential risk that pipeline accidents pose to human lives and the environment, it is essential that NTSB recommendations growing out of prior investigations into pipeline safety accidents are promptly implemented in order to prevent similar accidents from recurring,” wrote Rep. Markey, top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee and a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in the letter.
A copy of the letter to PHMSA can be found HERE.

“It is unacceptable that ‘unacceptable response’ is the final result to pipeline accidents that resulted in the loss of lives, homes and livelihoods,” said Rep. Markey in separate comments. “We must ensure that all pipeline safety recommendations are fully implemented in a satisfactory and timely manner.”

In the letter, Rep. asks PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman to respond to questions that include: 

  • For the recipient of an NTSB safety recommendation that did not respond in a satisfactory manner to the proposed safety recommendations, what actions have been taken by PHMSA to ensure or enforce operator compliance, and what process does PHMSA to guarantee conformity with NTSB safety recommendations? 
  • Given that many of the safety concerns raised by cases classified with “unacceptable action” remain unaddressed, has PHMSA considered reopening any of these cases or otherwise pushing for the implementation of the recommendations in question?
  • Has PHMSA conducted any internal reviews of the closed cases in which an unsatisfactory action was taken or in which the addressee gave no response?
  • Has PHMSA reviewed its regulations concerning the minimum burial depth for pipelines crossing rivers?
  • Are there any penalties for pipeline operators who fail to comply with some or all of the steps called for in the advisory bulletin issued in July to prevent and mitigate damage to pipeline facilities and ensure public and environmental safety in areas affected by flooding?

In July, Rep. Markey and the Democratic staff of the House Natural Resources Committee released a summary of major pipeline incidents from the last two years. This recent history of spills, explosions, environmental damage and loss of life and property demonstrates the need for a comprehensive review of pipeline safety.