Already Lax Pipeline Regulation About to Tank?

Sane Energy Project isn't the only one concerned with pipeline safety. We've reported many times on the inadequacies of oversight as well as the rubberstamping FERC approval process. Now, given the boom in new and proposed pipelines, and following what The New York Times called a "rash of pipeline accidents," a new report warns that pipeline regulation is about to become even less reliable. As Inside Climate News reports, with the build out of shale gas pipeline networks and the Keystone XL looming, "The pipeline boom would further tax the overburdened Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), a small, underfunded agency tasked with monitoring 2.5 million miles of pipelines."

As the in-depth investigation from Remapping Debate asked, "Why has PHMSA not tightened its regulations over time, but instead granted safety waivers? Why doesn’t PHMSA focus on ways to improve detection of corrosion and other damage to pipelines? And why hasn’t PHMSA followed the Transportation Safety Board recommendation that it measure the effectiveness of mandatory notices to people who live or work in zones where a blast would result in certain death or injury?"

Indeed, Sane Energy Project found it impossible to get our own local government to do a blanket mailing to the residents of the West Village and Chelsea when the Spectra pipeline was proposed. To date, no residents have received direct official notification of the pipeline's route near their homes or businesses. Unless they've received a postcard or flyer from Sane Energy Project, they are likely still unaware.

Residents are not only the ones most at risk from a potential pipeline explosion, they are the ones most likely to notice a problem. A new federal report found that members of the general public are more likely to identify oil and gas leaks than the pipeline companies’ own detection systems. For instance, Enbridge failed to notice their Kalamzoo River spill for 17 hours. This is not reassuring to those living near the Spectra pipeline, even though the company has promised to monitor the pipe from its Texas headquarters.

Multiple examples of the inadequacies of regulation abound: In October of 2011, Propublica reported about the expansion of pipelines as a growth industry that is "loosely regulated." In December of 2011, The Philadelphia Inquirer published a 4-part series,  "Powerful Pipes, Weak Oversight," outlining how hundreds of miles of high-pressure pipelines have been installed in Pennsylvania shale fields with no government safety checks–no construction standards, no inspections, and no monitoring. The column on the right-hand side of this website has links to numerous other examples, under the heading, "Lack of Regulation."

Our top federal agency is well aware of these problems. In August of 2011, following an investigation of the San Bruno pipeline explosion, The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) deemed the accident "A failure of the entire system," saying that Pacific Gas and Electric had exploited the lack of monitoring by regulators, who mistakenly placed "blind trust" in the utility.

But PG&E were hardly punished for their failures–it's the ratepayers who'll shoulder the cost of their mistakes. Law 360 reported that PG&E has requested nearly $770 million in rate increases to cover safety improvements. At the same time it ran a $10 million ad campaign pledging to improve safety, San Francisco media revealed that PG&E "flexed its political clout in the Legislature to defeat or water down several safety bills."

We have a broken system, one geared to support the industry rather than the citizenry, from the moment a pipeline is proposed to the moment an accident occurs, and in the clean-up afterwards. What can we do? We believe that if more people knew about these dangers, the system would have to change. So: Make more people aware; demand notification; oppose new pipelines.

NYC Congressman Jerrold Nadler sits on the Subcommittee for Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, and the Spectra Pipeline runs right through his Manhattan district. The Rockaway pipeline, which he approved, will run adjacent to his Brooklyn district. Let him know your concerns, ask him to send a mailing to every resident near the Spectra/Con Ed pipeline and the Rockaway/National Grid pipeline, notifying them of the projects proximity. Thank you for your efforts.

Congressman Nadler: (212) 367-7350 or