Washington, D.C. — Today, the Biden Administration’s issued a final rule to improve pipeline safety. This process has been in response to two unmitigated disasters in California and Michigan in 2010, the latter of which was the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history. In response, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) and our Michigan and California state affiliates issued the following statements:
Attributable to LCV Government Affairs Advocate Sara Fontes:
“Today marks the culmination of over a decade of work to improve the safety of pipelines and help curb some of their worst and most dangerous impacts on human and environmental safety and well-being. This rule will help safeguard our critical natural resources and protect communities, particularly the Indigenous and communities of color where the majority of our pipeline infrastructure is located. In helping to reduce leaks, this rule will also play a role in the administration’s plan to drive down methane emissions. We applaud the administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for their work on this issue and their leadership in getting this important new regulation across the finish line. We also urge the Senate to take swift action on the House-passed clean energy, climate, justice, and jobs investments to help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and this harmful and dangerous pipeline infrastructure.”
Attributable to Michigan League of Conservation Voters Federal Government Affairs Director Bentley Johnson:
“The 2010 Kalamazoo River oil pipeline spill in Michigan was the worst inland oil disaster in our country’s history. It ruptured after pipeline operator Enbridge Energy claimed it was safe, spewing oil into the surrounding waterways for 17 hours before the line was finally shut off. We commend the Biden Administration for taking long overdue action to help prevent future catastrophes, but unfortunately our addiction to fossil fuels will continue to damage lives, communities, and the environment until we transition to an equitable clean energy future.”
Attributable to California Environmental Voters Political and Organizing Director Mike Young:
“While we must continue to divest from fossil fuels and transition to green jobs and green energy – it is heartening to see the Biden administration take action on long overdue safety measures that would have saved lives from the 2010 San Bruno Explosion. We look forward to continued action by the administration to regulate this industry. “
Key notes on the rule:
These proposals address congressional mandates, incorporate recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board, and are necessary to reduce the consequences of large-volume, uncontrolled releases of natural gas and hazardous liquid pipeline ruptures.
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is proposing regulations to meet a congressional mandate calling for the installation of remote-control valves (RCV), automatic shutoff valves (ASV), or equivalent technology, on all newly constructed and fully replaced gas transmission and hazardous liquid lines. However, consistent with the mandate, PHMSA recognizes that there may be locations where it is not economically, technically, or operationally feasible to install RCVs, ASVs, or equivalent technology. Therefore, PHMSA is proposing to allow operators to install manual valves at these locations, provided operators have a sufficient justification for using a manual valve instead of an RCV, an ASV, or equivalent technology, and provided that operators appropriately station personnel to ensure that a manual valve can be closed within the same 40- minute timeframe PHMSA is proposing in this rulemaking for RCVs, ASVs, and equivalent technology. This will help to ensure that a consistent level of safety is provided whether operators use manual valves, RCVs, ASVs, or equivalent technology.
This notice of proposed rule making would define a ‘‘rupture’’ event through certain metrics or observations, require operators of applicable lines to meet new regulatory standards to identify ruptures more quickly, respond to them more effectively, and mitigate their impacts.
Based on congressional direction, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) safety recommendations from accident investigations, recommendations from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and PHMSA’s analysis of incidents and evolving technology, this rule proposes to define large-volume, uncontrolled releases of both natural gas and hazardous liquids as pipeline ‘‘ruptures’’ and proposes standards to mitigate those ruptures.
One such rupture occurred on July 25, 2010, in Marshall, Michigan, resulting in the spill of approximately 800,000 gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River and approximately $1 billion in damages. The operator took 18 hours to confirm the pipeline rupture. Following confirmation of the rupture, the failed segment of the pipeline was immediately isolated using remote controlled valves. Another incident occurred on September 9, 2010, in San Bruno, California, when a gas pipeline ruptured, causing a fire. This incident involved the uncontrolled release of natural gas for 95 minutes, severely hampering firefighting efforts, before the operator closed the mainline valves. The incident resulted in 8 deaths, 51 injuries requiring hospitalization, the destruction of 38 homes, damage to 70 other homes, and the evacuation of approximately 300 houses.
Following those incidents, Congress issued the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011.
Enbridge, the pipeline operator responsible for the incident near Marshall, MI, had remote-control technology installed on the ruptured pipeline. However, a failure to identify the rupture within a short amount of time rendered the technology essentially useless. Therefore, PHMSA believes a regulation requiring the installation of rupture-mitigating valves should be paired with a standard delineating when an operator must identify a rupture and actuate those valves. PHMSA also believes that this standard will be most cost-effective when applied to onshore hazardous liquid and natural gas transmission pipelines of certain diameters in high-consequence areas (HCA), areas that could affect HCAs (for hazardous liquid pipelines), and Class 3 and 4 locations (for natural gas transmission pipelines), where a release could have the most significant adverse consequences on public safety or the environment.