After the re-election of President Obama he has made it very clear that his administration will begin to take a strong look into the pipeline transportation industry. The Obama administration is looking to tighten up the regulations on pipelines and make sure their level of safety greatly increases. During his most recent term in office pipelines have taken several lives and one of the largest being the natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno California. In the San Bruno tragedy on September 9, 2010 a 30” steel pipeline exploded and killed eight people while destroying 38 homes in the process. Disasters like this one are the main target that will be addressed with the coming regulations.
One of the potential regulations that the Obama administration could be looking to impose is the inspection of older pipelines that had bypassed previous regulations to the grandfather clauses. These inspections will hopefully catch any structural damage in the pipes but currently the industry lacks the proper inspection technology to make a complete and thorough search impractical. The pressure testing that’s currently used to test many of the newer types of pipelines may even damage some of the older pipelines further. Jeffrey Wiese the Associate Administrator of Pipeline Safety with the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) points out another flaw in the inspections when he said, “You have pipelines that are the sole gas source into a town. You can’t just take them out of service for an inspections”. Another possible regulation that the Obama administration may impose is a much greater increase in the number of homes required to use pressure shut off valve that will shut off supply of gas if there is an issue with the distribution system. These shut off valves won’t allow gas to transport through faulty pipes but have also been proven to shut off at incorrect and inopportune times. Customers living in the northern parts of the country will not be happy if their gas is improperly cut off during the frigid winter months.
The regulations that are sure to come to pipeline industry will aim to improve safety and hopefully encourage companies to invest research and development money into inspection technology. Wiese describes the inspection process of pipelines today as “grossly underinvested” and with regulation put in place by the Obama administration hopefully the ball will get rolling with more research in this department to prevent future disasters.