Obama signs pipeline safety bill
President Obama signed into law Tuesday a pipeline safety bill that gained momentum after a string of high-profile incidents, including a deadly Northern California explosion in 2010.
The bill, which passed Congress with rare bipartisan support, doubles the maximum fine for safety violations to $2 million, authorizes more pipeline inspectors and requires automatic shut-off valves on new or replaced pipelines "where economically, technically and operationally feasible.''
It does not include a National Transportation Safety Board recommendation to require such shut-off valves on existing pipelines in heavily populated areas. It took utility workers nearly 95 minutes to manually shut off gas spewing from a pipeline in San Bruno, Calif.
The September 2010 explosion killed eight people, injured dozens and destroyed 38 homes. Other pipeline malfunctions have occurred in Michigan, Montana and Pennsylvania.
The call for automatic shutoff values on existing pipelines has faced industry opposition because of cost. Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat who represents San Bruno, has vowed to continue to push for legislation that would require such shut-off valves on existing pipelines in populated areas.
The bill also requires pipeline operators to confirm, through records or testing, the maximum safe operating pressure of older, previously untested pipelines in populated areas.
“This is landmark legislation that provides the regulatory certainty necessary for the pipeline industry to make critical investments and create American jobs,” Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who chairs a House subcommittee that oversees pipelines, said in a statement Tuesday.
"Safety is always of the highest priority and this law strengthens current law, fills gaps in existing law where necessary, and focuses on directly responding to recent pipeline incidents with balanced and reasonable policies..."
The Obama administration is considering stronger measures. California has taken steps to strengthen pipeline safety rules, including requiring automatic shut-off valves in vulnerable areas.
-- Richard Simon in Washington
Photo: A melted bicycle, incinerated vehicles and the remains of homes in San Bruno, Calif., after a pipeline explosion last year. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times