More obstacles won’t ensure pipeline safety

An editorial from the Parkersburg News and Sentinel         

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — National Transportation Safety Board accident investigators made a bit of a splash this week when they said three natural gas pipeline accidents, including one in West Virginia, demonstrated systemic weaknesses in the way providers maintain their pipelines. The report was used to boost support for federal rules about pipeline inspections – and arguments about the dangers of natural gas pipelines in general.

But a closer look at the NTSB report shows despite government rules for pipeline inspections in “high consequence” areas (where an explosion is likely to hurt people or destroy buildings), there has been no decline in the number of incidents since the standards were put in place in 2003.

Enforcement of current rules and guidelines remains sporadic and flawed. The existence of regulation does not ensure its effectiveness, and all the rules in the world will mean nothing if those rules are not enforced.

Meanwhile, it must be remembered more than half the pipelines in the U.S. were installed before 1970, and pre-1970 pipelines have a much higher failure rate than new ones. Anything installed today would be made of safer material, using improved techniques – and simply will not have been exposed to the elements for 45 years.

Yes, natural gas companies, pipeline companies, oversight and enforcement agencies, and the workers themselves have a responsibility to ensure the infrastructure they install is as safe as possible – and maintained as such – for the good of us all. But increased federal obstacles or the creation of a prohibitive regulatory environment will be good for no one.

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