News Releases

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this oversight hearing. Without your commitment and hard work, along with Senator Hollings, we would have never enacted such a strong pipeline safety bill in December 2002.

Five days ago, I was in Bellingham, Washington at a ceremony marking the fifth anniversary of the Bellingham pipeline explosion. That explosion killed three young boys and left a scar in my state that still has not healed. My sister is a public school teacher in Bellingham. Every year, she asks her eighth grade students to write about the most important events in their lives. She told me that this year, an amazing number of them wrote about the Bellingham pipeline explosion. So as we examine our progress today we can't lose sight of the real people whose lives have been torn apart by pipeline tragedies. I am pleased to say that we have made progress in the past few years because of the law we passed, the funding we secured, and Congressional oversight. I want to commend RSPA and OPS for the dramatic improvements they have made, but we know our work is not done.

Before the Bellingham tragedy, like many people, I'd never thought about the safety of our pipelines. I assumed that someone was taking care of it. But after the accident, I discovered inadequate laws, insufficient oversight, too few inspections, and a lack of awareness about pipeline dangers. I learned that one of the most important public safety offices in our government was under-funded and neglected. So, I asked Inspector General Ken Mead to investigate the Office of Pipeline Safety and give me recommendations for how to make the system work better.

Through my research and discussion, I learned that we needed to improve many areas like safety standards, enforcement, penalties, technology, public education, state participation and citizen involvement. So we began to work on legislation to address all of those areas and then worked to get hearings on the subject. Chairman McCain and former Senator Gorton were real champions in that effort. In the Senate, we passed a pipeline bill three times – in September 2000, in February 2001, and again in March 2002. Finally, the House passed a bill in July 2002, and our Act was signed into law in December 2002. A lot of Members worked together to pass that law, including Senators McCain, Hollings, Hutchison, Inouye, Brownback, Breaux, Domenici, Bingaman, Wyden, Lautenberg, Corzine, Gorton, and Cantwell, and Representatives Metcalf and Larsen, both of Washington state. Working together, we passed one of the strongest pipeline safety bills in American history. We then worked to fund it, and that has been a personal mission of mine as the Ranking Member and past Chairman of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee.

10 Ways We've Made Pipelines Safer

So what has happened since we passed the law? Let me give you 10 facts.

First, we are inspecting pipelines as never before, and our inspections are 10 times more rigorous than before. Before the bill became law, a pipeline inspection was one person spending 20 hours. Today, it's a team of six people spending 240 hours. Today, all large liquid pipeline operators have been inspected twice.

Second, we are finding and fixing pipeline problems at double the rate before the law.

Third, we've boosted the Office of Pipeline Safety by 20 percent from 135 people before up to 162 people now and most of them are inspectors.

Fourth, we are making real gains in new technology. I've secured $10 million in each of the past two years so that we can develop the next generation of equipment for pipeline inspection, detection, repair and monitoring.

Fifth, we have completed a national pipeline mapping system.

Sixth, we've beefed up enforcement. In the past three years, the Office of Pipeline Safety has issued corrective action orders at three times the rate they did five years ago.

Seventh, we've more than doubled the size of the average civil penalty for violations.

Eighth, we've given local groups expertise and a real role in the process.

Ninth, we've increased our coordination with states and utilities so people are talking to each other before they dig.

And finally, number 10, we've boosted public education through a new standard that went into effect in December of last year.

And the statistics show pipeline safety has improved. Nationally, over the past 10 years, there was an average of 25.2 incidents per million miles of pipeline. Over the past three years, that average has declined to 21.7 incidents per million miles.

As I look at all of those improvements, two things really stand out. First, we turned a slow, reactive government agency into one that is active and that's aggressively enforcing these higher safety standards. Today, the pipeline office has closed 40 out of 50 recommendations from the N.T.S.B., and has made considerable progress on implementing IG recommendations. It has issued new rules in record time, and it's reached out to work with states and citizen groups as never before. And we’ve also empowered local citizen groups to be strong watchdogs for public safety.

Our Work Is Not Done

We have made progress, but our work is not done. The recent incidents in Auburn, WA, Arizona, and elsewhere show that we still have a long way to go. The IG and GAO have come up with recommendations on how Congress and OPS can further improve pipeline safety. Those recommendations focus on maintaining and increasing OPS monitoring of the integrity management program, and ensuring that they follow up with corrective action orders and penalties. It is critical that OPS continue to push industry to live up to their obligations and to punish them when they do not.

I want to highlight one set of recommendations that the IG makes involving natural gas distribution lines. These distribution lines were not required to have integrity management plans. New, non-evasive technologies are being developed to test these pipelines for corrosion and defects. I believe these lines should be required to have integrity management plans.

Five years after the Bellingham tragedy, we have made progress, but we can't slip back and assume that someone else is protecting us. I am committed to making sure that we keep our eye on the ball with strong enforcement, oversight, coordination and funding. I applaud the Chairman and other members of this Committee for their commitment, and I know that by staying vigilant and working together, we can keep our communities safe.