The Senate has approved a bill aimed at improving the safety of oil and gas pipelines, after one lawmaker dropped his objections to the measure.
The measure, which the Senate passed unanimously on Oct. 17, would raise the cap on civil penalties in pipeline accidents and require new pipelines to have automatic or remote-controlled shut-off valves.
Under the bill, maximum civil penalties would rise to $250,000 a day with a cap of $2.5 million for a series of violations, from the current $100,000 a day and $1 million cap.
It also would authorize $479 million for the Dept. of Transportation’s pipeline-safety agency over four years and direct that DOT unit to add 39 staffers over that period in pipeline inspection, enforcement support and other areas.
In a provision that apparently is directed at the controversial proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta’s tar-sands region to Texas, the Senate bill also directs DOT to review its regulations to determine whether the regulations “are sufficient to regulate pipelines used for the transportation of tar sands crude oil.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) had been blocking floor action on the pipeline bill, but dropped his objections when Democrats agreed to add an amendment he had drafted.
Paul had said he was concerned about older pipelines, and his amendment has provisions requiring operators of certain existing pipelines to verify their maximum allowable operating pressure and any instances when they exceeded that level.
It also would require DOT to set regulations for testing certain previously untested pipelines that operate at a pressure exceeding 305 of minimum yield strength.
Paul said his initial objection was that the bill had been written before the National Transportation Safety Board had completed its investigation of the September 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno, Calif., that claimed eight lives. Paul said, “Is it not bad policy to pass regulations without reading the corresponding accident report? I certainly believe that it is.”
Two House committees—Energy and Commerce and Transportation and Infrastructure—also have cleared pipeline-safety measures that are similar to the Senate version.