The U.S. Government Accountability Office, in a 50-page report, said the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration needs to do better at spelling out response criteria.
Pipeline emergencies made headlines in 2010 when a natural gas line in San Bruno, Calif., exploded, leaving eight people dead and destroying dozens of homes. That same year, an oil pipeline ruptured in southern Michigan, resulting in the costliest onshore incident of its kind in U.S. history.
The GAO report said PHMSA could better examine national data to determine response times for different types of pipeline but first must do a better job at collecting that data.
"Reliable data would improve PHMSA's ability to measure incident response and assist the agency in exploring the feasibility of developing a performance-based approach for improving operator response to pipeline incidents," the agency stated.
Investigations into various pipeline incidents by the National Transportation Safety Board noted it took, in some cases, more than an hour to shutdown oil and gas networks after a rupture. The GAO, however, said automated shut-off valves should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
The agency added that the Transportation Department agreed to consider its recommendations. There were no public statements from the department or PHMSA.