Pipeline Safety Official:
'Judge Us by What We Do'
By Jeff Nesmith

Cox News Service
14 February, 2002


The Bush administration official responsible for federal pipeline safety enforcement acknowledged Wednesday that her agency's record is "not good" but told members of Congress she is committed to a more aggressive approach in the future.

Some members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on highways and transit charged that for more than a decade the tiny Office of Pipeline Safety has failed to carry out specific laws designed to make the nation's 2.2 million miles of oil and natural gas pipelines safe.

"I cannot speak for the past," said Ellen Engleman, who oversees pipeline safety in the Transportation Department. "I can only speak for the future and we are dealing with change in a decisive fashion."

She noted that when she took office as head of the DOT Research and Special Programs Administration, which includes the pipeline safety office, the government had 65 unmet recommendations and mandates dealing with pipeline safety.

"I am determined to wipe the slate clean within 12 months," she said, challenging members of the subcommittee to "judge us by our record."

Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., the committee's ranking Democrat and one of the chief congressional critics of the pipeline industry, said he was "astonished" at resistance by natural gas pipeline operators to a requirement that they perform internal examinations of all their pipelines within five years.

The National Transportation Safety Board has repeatedly called for such examinations, most recently in connection with a Carlsbad, N.M., pipeline explosion last August that killed 12 persons. The corroded pipeline that ruptured and caused the explosion had never been inspected or pressure tested, according to Jim Hall, former chairman of the safety board.

"I still find it astonishing that the industry continues to resist the five-year process for initial mandatory pipeline inspection," Oberstar said. "I know from experience: you set the objective. You set the deadlines.

Industry will find a way to meet it."

He also noted that following a 1986 gasoline pipeline explosion in Mounds, Minn., Congress passed a 1988 law requiring OPS to develop a map showing precise locations of all pipelines. Instead, OPS decided on a process in which pipeline operators were asked to "voluntarily" tell it where their lines are located.

Only about half of natural gas operators have complied, Oberstar said.

"Your own figures show that 90 percent of hazardous liquid pipelines operators have submitted mapping information, but only 52 percent of natural gas," he said. "Why, when the gas industry has not provided information on 150,000 miles of pipeline, do you think industry is going to voluntarily comply? The track record is not very good, is it?"

"No sir, it's not," Engleman replied. "And that's why we are dedicated to reforming and resolving these very issues."

In other testimony, a pipeline safety bill introduced by committee chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, was criticized by environmentalists and safety activists as a step backwards.

"Unfortunately, Rep. Young's bill does not include needed changes, and the House should look to previously-introduced legislation by both Democrats and Republicans for bills the environment and public safety communities would support," said Lois Epstein, senior environmental engineer with Cook Inlet Keeper, an environmental group in Alaska.

Representatives of natural gas pipeline operators testified that Young's bill "best reflects a bipartisan direction."

Herman Morris, president of Memphis Light, Gas & Water, a municipal utility, said other bills that would require the five-year inspection cycles for natural gas pipelines "cannot be justified."

COPYRIGHT: 2002 Cox News Service

Return to Index