Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo)today introduced a measure prompted by the 2010 San Bruno pipeline tragedy. H.R. 22 seeks to greatly improve natural gas pipeline safety.

Congresswoman Speier stated, “Existing national gas pipeline law needs to be overhauled to reflect the increased risks posed by an ever-increasing population living and working near gas transmission lines. We also need to take advantage of new technologies that improve how pipeline failures are detected before they turn into tragedies. The horrible consequences of the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion could have been minimized and possibly prevented if the mandates of H.R 22 had been  in force.

“But I want to be perfectly clear, the introduction of H.R. 22 does not suggest that existing rules were completely inadequate to protect the residents of San Bruno. Rules only work if followed. PG&E misidentified the type of pipe in the ground and therefore failed to check for weld strength for more than 50 years. While the cause of the explosion is still under investigation, I believe the evidence is mounting that PG&E’s cursory review of an aging infrastructure coupled with operator error contributed to the explosion and fire that killed eight people. A new law won’t bring back those who perished, but it will help insure that a San Bruno never happens again.”

Speier said her bill, if it had been in force, would have minimized damage in San Bruno because of these mandates:

  • Requires installation of automatic or remote shut-off valves in all Class 3 and Class 4 high consequence areas and in areas within ten miles of a high-risk seismic fault. PG&E crews took 1 hour, 29 minutes to turn off the manual valves for the gas that fed the San Bruno fire.

  • Requires pipeline operators to give first responders and the Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Materials Administration emergency plans covering actions to be taken in case of a pipeline rupture. San Bruno fire teams were not aware for 30 minutes that the blaze in the Glenview neighborhood was a natural gas fire.

  • Requires operators to tell residents if their property is within 2,000 feet of a transmission pipeline. A property owner would be given the exact location of the pipeline if it is on his/her property. This provision would increase the likelihood that residents would report suspicious gas odors to the appropriate utility.

Speier added that the bill would advance pipeline safety with these two provisions:

  • Requires operators to inspect pipelines every five years using proven methods to detect corrosion and pipe stress and if these methods are not feasible, the operator is prohibited from operating the line at high pressure. PG&E has been operating its lines in the East Bay and the Peninsula at reduced pressure pending the outcome of the NTSB investigation. PG&E hasn’t been able to employ equipment, known as pigs, to check the condition of pipe welds in certain areas, including the line that ruptured in San Bruno.

  • Requires the Secretary of the Department of Transportation to set standards for natural gas leak detection equipment and methods.

  • Requires that the age of the pipe, inability to inspect using recommended inspection methods and the likelihood of seismicity be added to the list of factors used in designating a high consequence area.

Speier first introduced the Pipeline Safety and Community Empowerment Act in the 111th Congress in September as HR 6295.