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Audit Questions Railroad Commission’s Inspection of Texas Natural Gas Pipelines

According to a state auditor’s report, the Texas Railroad Commission inspected only 65 percent of the highest-priority pipelines last year. Reportedly, the pipelines received the high-priority designation after being identified in the Railroad Commissions annual inspection work plan. Sources say the finding also determined that the Railroad Commission has “opportunities to strengthen” its Pipeline Safety and Damage Prevention program.

According to reports, the audits specifically cited following five areas which need improvement: (1) increasing inspections of pipeline systems ranked as the highest priority; (2) increasing the accuracy and completeness of annual pipeline inspections; (3) including reviews of pipeline operators’ integrity management plans; (4) following pipeline damage incidents and ensuring that investigations are completed before a case is closed; and (5) strengthening certain information technology controls.

Reportedly, Texas has the largest network of natural gas pipelines in the United States, with about 270,000 miles of pipeline systems. Sources say Texas was also the site of two high-profile deadly pipeline accidents in 2010. Reportedly, one accident happened in Johnson County, where a crew installing electrical towers struck a natural gas line that erupted into flames. Sources say the other accident happened in the Panhandle when a bulldozer struck a pipeline.

However, sources say national attention was drawn to pipeline inspection issues after a September 2010 explosion in San Bruno, California which killed eight and destroyed 38 homes. Reportedly, many watchdog groups warned that regulatory loopholes could cause problems as companies build more pipelines. However, sources say that many state and city measures are in place that govern the pipelines

Sources say the audit reported 37,000 pipeline incident reports. Environmentalist say the bad news from the audit is that the state had not gone through the process to close out all of the cases. However, the good news is that Texas is one of the few states to even collect that type of information.

According to Libby Willis, the president of the Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods, the study “should be a wake-up call,” especially in Fort Worth, which has more than 900 miles of pipelines. Willis believes the fact that only 65 percent of the high-priority pipelines being inspected should be extremely alarming to residents. Willis has stated, “that is like letting restaurants certify the cleanliness of their own kitchens without outside inspections, how can the citizens be sure of the safety of the pipelines when the [Railroad Commission] is allowing no outside inspections of 35 percent of the high-priority systems?”

Reportedly, the Railroad Commission has released a statement saying it is working and dealing with the problems.

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