The chief federal regulator for natural-gas pipelines faced a tidal wave of criticism at a Senate hearing Tuesday after disclosing that little progress has been made on enacting new safety regulations to prevent future pipeline explosions. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the majority of denigration directed at Cynthia Quarterman, overseer of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Board, came from Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-CA., and Dianne Feinstein, D-CA. Both senators are still shaken by the San Bruno pipeline explosion that rattled their state in 2010 and illustrated the need for stricter regulations on managing older pipelines.
Eight people were killed and 38 houses exploded on September 9, 2010 when a 54-year old pipeline exploded in San Bruno, CA. Officials say the pipeline, owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electric Co., cracked and a delay in shutting off the gas led to the deadly explosion. Many believe the blast could have been averted had the Safety Board better enforced state utility regulations.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, the National Transportation Safety Board made a host of recommendations to Quarterman’s agency and PG & E, among others, to enhance the safety of the nation’s pipelines. While Quarterman claims many of the recommendations were similar to what was already in place before the disaster, Boxer disagreed and pushed the agency to implement necessary regulations at a faster pace. Most notably, Boxer and a group of senators want automatic shutoff valves installed on old pipelines as well as the replacement of type a plastic pipe used before 1973 that is vulnerable to decay. PG & E has already agreed to replace thousands of miles of the plastic pipe in California, but the shutoff valves are only required on new and replaced pipelines. Had the shutoff valves been installed on the San Bruno pipeline, it’s likely the tragedy would have been prevented.
Tuesday’s hearing came the morning after the Senate unanimously passed a bill increasing regulation over the nation’s underground gas pipelines. The bill also ends exemptions for older pipelines from pressure testing and other procedures employed to prevent explosions. The bill will compete in the House of Representatives against an industry-backed bill requiring softer regulations, though Boxer expects the Senate’s version to prevail given the unanimous support among her colleagues.
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