Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) today introduced new pipeline safety legislation on the eve of the one year anniversary of the deadly gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno. Her bill, the Pipeline Modernization for Safety Act of 2011, ends the exemption that allowed operators of natural gas transmission lines to avoid safety tests for pipelines installed prior to 1971. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in its final report on the rupture of a pipeline installed in San Bruno in 1956 recommended that the federal exemption be eliminated.

“The San Bruno explosion should serve as a wakeup call that older pipelines can pose an imminent danger to our communities,” Speier said. “But current law exempts them from critical testing requirements applied to newer pipelines. This is, as one NTSB member called it, ‘backward,’ and my bill will fix it once and for all.”

Speier’s legislation requires a pipeline operator to hydro-test or replace any pipeline segment that does not have a documented pressure test. According to the NTSB, if the San Bruno pipeline had been subjected to such testing in 1956, it would have failed, and the disaster last September 9 could have been avoided. The Secretary of Transportation could require additional measures for public safety, including temporary reduction in pressure, while the requirements are carried out. In addition, operators would have to submit a written report to the Secretary any time pipelines without a documented test exceed the maximum allowable pressure. The NTSB estimates that nearly half of all pipelines in the United States have not been pressure tested.

“The San Bruno explosion proved we can no longer afford to take a wait-and-see approach when it comes to pipeline safety,” Speier said. “We need documented pressure tests of every segment of pipe in this nation. Too many lives are at stake.”

Speier also sent letters to the leaders of the House Transportation and Infrastructure and Energy and Commerce Committees along with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood calling on them to act swiftly on meaningful pipeline safety reform.