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Report: Pipeline emergency response plans going unchecked

Oil and gas pipelines are some of the most dangerous environments to work in. Catastrophic accidents, including fires and explosions, occur frequently, resulting in serious injuries to workers. In fact, more than 100 "significant" pipeline accidents occur each year in the United States, resulting in loss of life, injuries and significant damage to property.

For these reasons, one would think that the federal agency that governs pipeline safety would have serious checks in place, right? Wrong. According to a report released by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the federal pipeline safety agency has not conducted a surprise safety exercise in more than eight years to see if a pipeline operator can execute emergency response plans.

The report indicates that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, also does not keep track of which pipeline operators have emergency response plans that have been approved. Under federal guidelines, up to 20 unannounced exercises are required annually to determine whether an operator has the "ability to respond to a worst case discharge spill event.”

PHMSA admits that it has not conducted any of these unannounced exercises since 2005, and only 26 planned safety reviews have been conducted over the past five years.

According to a spokeswoman with PEER, these findings mean that "pipelines in America are essentially self-regulated.” She added that without these tests, it "should be no surprise when the on-scene response to actual emergencies is lacking."

Undoubtedly, the pipeline industry has grown signficantly over the past several years is only going to get more expansive in the United States, which means that more attention is needed to protect against accidents and disasters. Hopefully, federal officials recognize this need for greater supervision and regulation.

Source: eNews Park Forest, "No Surprise Federal Pipeline Safety Exercises Since 2005," July 17, 2013

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