President Bush Signs Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 Into Law

The Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 was signed into law by President Bush on December 17, 2002. Congress had crafted the legislation as an amendment to the 1994 Pipeline Safety Law, largely in response to pipeline ruptures in Carlsbad, New Mexico and Bellingham, Washington.

The act applies to pipeline facilities which transport natural gas or hazardous liquids in interstate commerce, and gathering facilities in populated areas. The act also applies to intrastate pipelines and local distribution companies, but the states can regulate those entities if their regulations satisfy federal standards.

Some of the most important aspects of the act are:

Tightening of federal inspection and safety requirements. In order to help prevent leaks and ruptures, the act establishes mandatory inspections of all U.S. oil and natural gas pipelines within ten years. More problematic pipelines will be inspected within the next five years. All pipelines would then be re-inspected every seven years following the ten-year interval.

Safety orders. The act permits the Secretary of the Department of Transportation to order corrective action of a pipeline facility, including physical inspection, testing, repair, or replacement.

Risk analysis. The act directs operators of natural gas pipelines to conduct an analysis of the risks of their pipeline facilities that are located in high-density areas (HDAs), and to adopt and implement management programs for the integrity of such facilities. Pipeline operators are to adopt integrity management programs within two years.

Increase in penalties. A pipeline operator may now be assessed a civil penalty for safety violations in an amount between $25,000 and $100,000 for each violation, and in an amount between $500,000 and $1,000,000 for a related series of violations.

One-call notification program. Under the act, the Department of Transportation is to encourage operators to adopt and implement certain best practices for notification of leaks and ruptures.

Public education programs. Pipeline facilities are to establish public education programs within one year to advise municipalities, schools and other entities on the use of the one-call notification system, possible hazards from unintended releases from a pipeline facility, what to do in the event of a release, and so forth.

Environmental reviews. The act establishes a structure for the development of a coordinated environmental review and permitting process to enable pipeline operators to conduct any necessary pipeline repairs.

Research and development. The act directs the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Departments of Transportation and Energy to work with an advisory committee to develop a plan that addresses critical research and development needs to ensure pipeline safety.

Whistle-blower protection. The act includes whistleblower protection by prohibiting pipeline operators from firing or taking adverse action against an employee for providing information regarding pipeline safety to the employer or to the federal government.

This article has been prepared by Modrall Sperling for informational purposes only, and not for legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship. Readers should seek the professional advice of an attorney before acting upon any of the information contained in this article.

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