BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. officials on Monday adopted a long delayed rule aimed at reducing deaths and environmental damage from oil and gas pipeline ruptures in response to fatal explosions and massive spills that happened in California, Michigan and other states.
But safety advocates said the U.S. Transportation Department move would not have averted the accidents that prompted the rule because it applies only to new pipelines — and not the hundreds of thousands of miles of lines that already crisscross the country.
The rule requires companies to install valves that can quickly shut off the flow of oil, natural gas or other hazardous fuels when pipelines rupture. It came in response to a massive gas explosion in San Bruno, California, that killed eight people in 2010, and to large oil spills into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River and Montana's Yellowstone River and other spills.
The National Transportation Safety Board since the 1990s has recommended the use of automatic or remote controlled valves on large pipelines — whether they are existing or new — to reduce the severity of accidents.
But pipeline companies resisted new valve requirements because of the expense of installing them and concerns they could close accidentally and shut off fuel supplies.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the more stringent regulations for the industry were needed because too many people have been harmed by pipeline failures.
He said installation of the valves would also protect against large releases of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas blamed for helping drive climate change.
"Today we are taking an important step to protect communities against hazardous pipeline leaks — helping to save the lives, property, and jobs of people in every part of the country while preventing super-polluting methane leaks.” Buttigieg said.
The Pipeline Safety Trust, a Bellingham, Washington-based advocacy group, said the rule marked progress since Congress mandated more stringent pipeline regulations more than a decade ago.
But the group said exempting pipelines that are already in the ground means it would not prevent a repeat of the accident at San Bruno, which involved a pipeline that was more than 60 years old.
“This rule falls far short of the NTSB recommendation and will offer no additional safety to communities living near existing pipelines," said Bill Caram, executive director of the safety trust.
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