House moves bill to ensure oil, gas pipeline safety

Upton: Legislation is designed to help respond when "the unthinkable happens."
By Daniel J. Graeber  |  June 9, 2016 at 7:19 AM
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WASHINGTON, June 9 (UPI) -- House leaders announced the passage of a bill that would help fund federal regulatory efforts and authorize inquiries into leaks like the one in California.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the so-called PIPES Act, which passed by a unanimous vote, moves to strengthen regulations that impact how more than 60 percent of the nation's oil and gas reserves are transported across the country.

Upton's home state in 2010 suffered one of the worst inland oil spills in the nation's history when an Enbridge pipeline ruptured in southern Michigan.

"Ask anyone who was directly affected -- seeing the aftermath firsthand smacks the senses and leaves a lasting impression," he said in a statement. "And while a spill can happen in an instant, the damage can take decades and billions of dollars to fix, underscoring the need for strong safety laws."

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder issued a state of energy emergency last month because of the shutdown of a fuel pipeline in Wisconsin and an outage at a Marathon refinery in the east side of the state.

If finalized, the bill would authorize more than $700 million for the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Among the recommendations in the bill is the consideration for a multi-agency task force to examine the Aliso Canyon gas leak in California.

California regulators and the Southern California Gas Co. said a faulty well at the Aliso Canyon storage facility was permanently sealed with cement and taken out of service in mid-February. The site near Los Angeles had been leaking methane, a potent greenhouse gas, since late October.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who helped push the bill through the Senate, said the Aliso Canyon provision was an important step for the protection of the community in her state. A Boxer amendment to the Senate version ordered Energy Secretary Earnest Moniz to lead a federal review of the leak.

In May, California authorities filed criminal charges against Plains All American Pipeline and one of its employees, 41-year-old James Buchanan, for last year's spill at Refugio State Beach. A pipeline rupture there released around 3,000 barrels of oil. A PHMSA investigation found a "number of preventable errors" led to the spill.

"PHMSA doesn't do the job by itself -- it relies heavily on partnerships with states and local governments to inspect pipelines and enforce the law," Upton said. "But the reality is that more can be done to prevent accidents from occurring and mitigating spills when the unthinkable happens."

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