Weak pipeline enforcement endangers lives

A report that 90 percent of the 137 interstate pipeline fires or explosions since 2010 have resulted in no financial penalties for the companies responsible made Lisa McCormick so angry, she is calling on Congress to reconstitute the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

E&E News reporter Mike Soraghan published a story describing the federal Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) weak authority over the fossil fuel industry for these disasters.

The agency only levied $5.4 million in fines for 13 pipeline explosion and fire cases during the last eight year period, according to Soraghan.

“Congress must put some teeth into laws designed to protect people from sloppy handling of dangerous material, such as high pressure gas pipelines,” said McCormick, who believes fossil fuels should be curtailed to prevent the deadly consequences of climate change. “Until we make corporations accountable they will not behave responsibly.”

“It is incredible that 137 interstate pipeline fires and explosions have resulted in only 13 fines,” said McCormick. “Oil and gas are having a catastrophic impact on the environment when they are used correctly. Letting these polluters get away with dangerous erroneous discharges is worse, but that reflects action taken before we had an administration that is acting in league with the polluters.”

McCormick said Republican Trump administration appointees at the EPA and Interior Department are guilty of conspiring against the public interest to increase fossil fuel industry profits.

The total $5.4 million fines in the 13 explosion and fire cases where PHMSA did seek civil penalties in that eight-year period was less than one day of profits for TransCanada Corp., the company that owns the Keystone XL pipeline.

It’s about $2 million less than TransCanada CEO Russ Girling’s total compensation last year.

Federal regulators at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration ordered one company to repair a high-pressure natural gas pipeline and inspect it at a higher standard, but they didn’t seek a financial penalty.

Another transmission pipeline later burst into flames like a blowtorch, threatening lives and property. The line had not been inspected for 24 years, even after two parallel lines had been found to show signs of corrosion.

Since the beginning of 2010, interstate pipelines have exploded or caught fire 137 times, according to the E&E News analysis of interstate pipeline enforcement and incident data. In about 90 percent of those cases, PHMSA sought no fine.

Among the cases that resulted in no fines were a 2016 ammonia pipeline leak in Nebraska that killed a farmer and a Pennsylvania gas line explosion in the same year that left a man so badly burned that parts of his right arm and leg had to be amputated.

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