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America's Pipelines Getting Safer? Part Two

In our last blog post, we discussed a recent article in The New York Times that suggested pipeline accidents and injuries are actually decreasing, despite the abundance of pipeline accidents in the news lately. Today, we will continue to look at pipeline safety laws and advanced technology that help to reduce the number of pipeline injuries in our country.

The Pipeline Safety Improvement Act, enacted in 2002, requires gas pipeline operators to identify areas which are inhabited by many people or where evacuation may prove difficult, also known as "high-consequence" areas.

Also, improved technology allows pipeline operators to identify potential problems before they occur. For example, many operators use what they call "pigs," or devices that are placed in the pipelines to provide an assessment of the interior conditions, indicating whether there is corrosion. While "pigs" have been used for a long time, new technology allows them to identify even tiny bits of corrosion.

According to Terry Boss, the senior vice president of environment, safety and operations at the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, the industry is trying to predict what will happen beforehand and prevent negative consequences. Boss said some operators are using laser monitoring conducted from airplanes. Pacific Gas and Electric used this technology following the devastating San Bruno pipeline explosion in September. The laser monitoring revealed 38 leaks, which have all been fixed.

Congress might also be stepping in soon to make improvements to the pipeline industry. Congress reviews pipeline safety regulations every four years. Given the number of high-profile pipeline accidents in the last few months, there may be a push for increased regulation and monitoring.

While this article was reassuring, the slew of recent pipeline accidents speaks volumes about the overall safety of our pipelines. Any new technologies or stricter regulations would be welcome to prevent the devastating aftermath of pipeline accidents.

Source: The New York Times "Some Exceptions to the Rule, but Pipelines Are Safer," Kate Galbraith, 16 November 2010

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