U.S. Department of Transportation Calls for Tighter Rules on Pipeline Safety

On October 1, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a call for more stringent safety regulations in the nation’s pipelines. The regulations would widen existing inspection practices to cover currently exempt rural regions of the country. They would also require oil companies to more closely monitor inspection results, re-examine the pipelines in the wake of natural events that might affect them (such as hurricanes or floods), and to report on leaks and related concerns on smaller pipelines that currently are not covered by Federal oversight.

If enacted, the proposed rules are likely to have a large impact on the Bakken. An Associated Press reporter noted that the new regulations will cover over 200,000 miles of pipeline, including much of the past decade of growth, stemming from the rapid ramp-up of oil production. Pipeline accidents have occurred in Montana, California, and Virginia.

The new regulations have their genesis in a 5-year-old Michigan-based oil spill that saw 840,000 gallons of crude oil enter the Kalamazoo River. The clean-up costs topped $1 billion, making it the most expensive land-based oil spill in the nation’s history. U.S. Transportation Department officials blamed the spill, which went unnoticed for more than 15 hours, on weak oversight. The pipeline was operated by a Canadian company.

The head of the U.S. Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration observed “this is a big step forward in terms of strengthening our regulations. It’s timely, and it’s raising the bar on safety.”

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