Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Feds lack funding to properly inspect all 2.5 million miles of natural gas pipelines

Tuesday's fireball explosion of an interstate natural gas transmission line in West Virginia is the latest in a string of incidents involving natural gas lines that have gone mostly unnoticed this year and call attention to the need for more funding and personnel to ensure pipelines are properly inspected, Mark Clayton reports for The Christian Science Monitor. (West Virginia State Police photo: A fireball is seen across Interstate 77 in Sissonville, W. Va, after a natural gas pipeline exploded in flames near Charleston)

Less than one month into 2015 the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has already reported 80 incidents involving natural gas transmission lines, and 38 were classified as significant, Clayton writes. Accidents and fires have caused seven injuries and $44 million of damage. There have been another 71 incidents with nine fatalities and 21 injuries involving natural gas distribution lines, which bring gas directly to residential and commercial customers in and around major population centers.

Rebecca Craven, program director of watchdog Pipeline Safety Trust, told Clayton, "There are never enough inspectors at the state or federal level to adequately cover all the pipelines. They can't physically spend enough time with each operator or pipeline to be able to do a thorough job and conduct regular inspections. They do what they can—enough to comply with their requirements."

There are 2.5 million miles of pipeline operated by about 3,000 companies, but PHMSA only has funding for 137 inspectors, Clayton writes. In 2010 the agency had 110 inspectors on staff and in some years averaged 24 employees. (Read more)

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