The US Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in March issued a proposed set of new regulations or natural gas pipelines. Reporting the move Associated Press described it as “a belated response to numerous fiery accidents, including a 2010 California explosion that killed eight people and injured more than 50.”
A year earlier, when the PSMA issued a new set of rules designed to prevent damage to pipelines, Interim Executive Director Stacy Cummings said: “Between 1988 and 2014 there were 1,815 pipeline incidents caused by excavation damage that resulted in 193 deaths, 757 injuries and nearly $US545 million in property damage.”
That’s a rather smaller cost than cited by AP for pipeline failures. It said: “In the past two decades, the government has recorded more than 2,000 accidents on gas transmission lines across the US, resulting in 46 deaths, 181 injuries and $US1.8 billion in damages.”
Either way, we’re talking big bucks and significant loss of life, not to mention personal suffering, disruption, loss of livelihood. The proposed regulations should do a lot to reduce those figures. AP said they would expand inspection and repair rules to include lines in some rural areas and recently-installed lines in burgeoning gas drilling fields.
Pressure-testing for leaks would be required on older lines that were previously exempt, such as the Pacific Gas and Electric Company pipe laid in 1956 that burst and caused the 2010 conflagration in San Bruno California.
But the proposed regulations omitted one safety feature that would greatly reduce the consequences of any leak, whether it was the result of excavation, pipe failure or other cause: automatic shutdown valves.
That issue was highlighted by the San Bruno incident “Where a 30-inch-diameter [76cm] pipeline buried beneath a suburban street continued spewing gas for 95 minutes after it broke, destroying 38 homes and damaging 70 others before a utility worker manually shut it down,” AP said.
AP said safety officials had urged making the valves mandatory. “The gas industry has resisted, in part due to their potential high cost.”
AP said it had seen details of these costings. “Complying would cost companies an estimated $US597 million to $US711 million over the next 15 years, according to federal and industry officials. Benefits primarily from hundreds of avoided accidents would total $US3.2 billion to $US4.7 billion over the same period.”
Whilst $US711m is a huge sum, the US gas industry presently has annual revenues of $US163b, so that $US711m represents less than 0.5 percent of annual revenues and a fraction of what the industry will earn over the next 15 years. The case for fitting the valves makes good sense.
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