Pipeline firms seek talks with Washington policy makers on security issues

By the OGJ Online Staff

WASHINGTON, DC, Oct. 1, 2001 — US gas pipeline companies they need more communication with policy makers on security issues that could impair their business.

In a Sept. 28 letter to Transportation Sec. Norman Mineta, the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America cited as an example the problems its member companies had checking pipeline routes in the days following Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the US.

“Due to federal flight restrictions, pipelines were unable to fly [airplanes] to observe their pipeline rights of way,” said INGAA. “Our member companies have discovered that subsequent exemptions by the FAA from these restrictions were, first confusing, and then applied differently by various regional flight centers. We need to work together to improve our communications regarding important security issues such as this one.”

INGAA however did praise quick action by DOT’s Office of Pipeline Safety on other industry-related issues.

“On Sept. 11, we did ask OPS to take the National Pipeline Mapping system off of their website and they did so,” INGAA said.

To keep pipelines running smoothly, the association urged Mineta and the Bush administration to close the information gap.

“We need to work together to be more sensitive to what information regarding our pipeline systems is made available to the general public and in what format,” the group said.

INGAA also outlined a policy agenda it hopes administrators and lawmakers will consider. The Senate passed pipeline safety legislation earlier this year; the House has yet to act.

The Senate bill would reauthorize the Pipeline Safety Act through fiscal 2003. OPS would have a stronger enforcement role and could impose higher penalties. State safety programs would also be beefed up through more federal grants and local inspectors would be given more authority.

A bill by House Democrats, opposed by industry last year, would have created citizen advisory committees in the states. Democrats also wanted to see mandated federal inspections and more public disclosure of accidents.

The House Republican leadership says it is interested in a pipeline safety bill but it is uncertain on a timetable for legislation. House leaders generally support the Senate bill.

In other pipeline-related legislation, federal pipeline regulators would be able to hire more staff for the new fiscal year under a pending Senate budget bill.

The Senate’s appropriation of $58.5 million for OPS is $10 million more than the House, and $5 million more than the White House’s original request before the terrorist attacks (OGJ Online, July 12, 2001).

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