SAFER Pipelines Act Provides Critical Safety and Pollution Protections

Major new federal pipeline safety legislation introduced in November will bring about dramatic new environmental and public safety benefits for all Americans.

The bill, HR 5120, authored by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), is the “Safe, Accountable, Fair and Environmentally Responsible (SAFER) Pipelines Act of 2019.” The bill will give the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) (part of the Department of Transportation) strong direction to act in the safety interests of citizens living in both urban and rural areas, including by requiring new rules to prevent, detect, stop and report methane emissions. The two veteran congressmen are chairmen, respectively, of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“By putting in place critical new public safety and climate protections, the SAFER Pipelines Act is a win-win for all American families,” said Elizabeth Gore, Senior Vice President, Environmental Defense Fund. “It’s well past time to give PHMSA the tools and direction to contribute to our nation’s efforts to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.”

Methane, the major component of natural gas, is a key driver of climate change, more than 80 times as damaging to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide over the first 20 years following its release, and the oil and gas supply chain is the largest industrial source of methane in the U.S. Extensive scientific research has found that methane leaks appear anytime, anywhere in all segments of the oil and gas value chain, and the bill imposes new requirements on the oil and gas industry to use the latest, advanced leak detection technology to guard against them.  

“Preventing, detecting, and fixing methane leaks represents some of the most cost-effective actions we can take right now to slow the rate of climate change,” Gore said.

This bill will set in motion protections that will enhance public safety and reduce climate risks, while providing greater assurance to communities and families that natural gas leaks will be found and fixed promptly.

Key provisions include:

  • Comprehensive pipeline mapping for the first time: Unfathomably, PHMSA currently does not know where all of the pipelines in the country are located. The operators of hundreds of thousands of miles of pipelines, including gas gathering lines (the pipelines that carry gas from the fields where it is extracted to larger transportation infrastructure) will have to submit to PHMSA detailed information about the location of their lines.
  • Extending leak detection requirements to gas gathering lines. Currently none of the operators of the nation’s435,000 miles of natural gas gathering lines, whether currently mapped or unmapped, are required to check for leaks. Checking these lines for leaks and then fixing those leaks would cut pollution and protect nearby communities.
  • Requiring the use of advanced leak detection technologies to check pipelines for leaks. Technology available to find and fix methane leaks has advanced rapidly in recent years, including handheld, andvehicle- and aerially-mounted methane sensors. This bill would require pipeline operators to use the latest technology – capable of measuring in parts per billion – to check for gas leaks. It also requires applying the best available technology to help protect against leaks during pipeline repair and maintenance servicing.

“This bill will make important contributions to improving the safety and reducing the environmental impact of developing America’s natural gas resources.” Gore commented. “We look forward to working with Congress to get it enacted.”

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