Pipeline Safety and Security: Federal Programs [Updated October 11, 2006]   [open pdf - 102KB]

"Nearly half a million miles of oil and gas transmission pipeline crisscross the United States. While an efficient and fundamentally safe means of transport, many pipelines carry hazardous materials with the potential to cause public injury and environmental damage. The nation's pipeline networks are also widespread, running alternately through remote and densely populated regions; consequently, these systems are vulnerable to accidents and terrorist attack. Congress is examining the progress of federal efforts to protect pipelines as it considers reauthorization of the federal Office of Pipeline Safety under the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2006 (H.R. 5782) and the Pipeline Inspection, Protection, Enforcement, and Safety Act of 2006 (S. 3961). Congress is also considering proposals to expand the pipeline security activities of the Transportation Security Administration under the Transportation Security Improvement Act of 2005 (S. 1052). The Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS), within the Department of Transportation (DOT), is the lead federal regulator of pipeline safety. The OPS uses a variety of strategies to promote compliance with its safety regulations, including inspections, investigation of safety incidents, and maintaining a dialogue with pipeline operators. The agency clarifies its regulatory expectations through a range of communications and relies upon a range of enforcement actions to ensure that pipeline operators correct safety violations and take preventive measures to preclude future problems. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is the lead federal agency for security in all modes of transportation - including pipelines. The agency oversees industry's identification and protection of pipelines by developing security standards; implementing measures to mitigate security risk; building stakeholder relations; and monitoring compliance with security standards, requirements, and regulation. While the OPS and TSA have distinct missions, pipeline safety and security are intertwined. Although pipeline impacts on the environment remain a concern of some public interest groups, both federal government and industry representatives suggest that federal pipeline programs have been on the right track. As oversight of the federal role in pipeline safety and security continues, questions may be raised concerning the effectiveness of state pipeline damage prevention programs, the promulgation of low-stress pipeline regulations, federal pipeline safety enforcement, the relationship between DHS and the DOT with respect to pipeline security, and particular provisions in federal pipeline safety regulation."

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CRS Report for Congress, RL33347
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