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U.S. Senate Passes Bill on Pipeline Regulation After Months of Holdup

According to reports, a bill which tightens federal safety regulations over oil and gas pipelines passed through the senate on October 17, 2011. However, sources say the bill was allowed to proceed after a Republican senator dropped his opposition to the proposed measure.

Reportedly, the bill is a legislative attempt to fill gaps in federal safety regulations which have been exposed after a deadly gas pipeline rupture in California last year. Proponents of the regulation noted that the California pipeline rupture was one among many in the past several years. Sources say the bill would accomplish the following objectives: (1) provide for more federal safety inspectors; (2) increase penalties for violations; (3) require pipeline companies to verify their records on pipelines’ physical and operational characteristics; and (4) establish maximum operating pressures based on the verified information.

According to reports, the bill would also require federal regulators to order that automatic shutoff valves be installed on new pipelines so leaks can be halted sooner. Sources say the bill directs regulators in determining whether mandatory inspections of aging pipelines in densely populated areas should be expanded to include lines in rural areas. Further, the bill would be funded by industry fees.

Reportedly, when investigating the California accident investigators found that officials for Pacific Gas and Electric Co. didn’t know that a large transmission line under a subdivision in San Bruno, California, was made with short pieces of inferior pipe welded together until after the line ruptured. Sources say the rupture sparked a pillar of fire which killed eight people. According to investigators, the company’s records for the half century old line were inaccurate and the strength of the pipe had not been adequately tested.

One senator was quoted as saying, “people shouldn’t have to worry about streets exploding under their feet because of lax safety regulations infrastructure demands proper regulation to save lives, and that’s the path on which this bill sets us.”

According to reports, the bill was approved under unanimous consent procedures with no roll call vote or debate. However, sources say the bill was only allowed to proceed after Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky abruptly dropped his hold on the measure.

Sources say the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved the bill in May without opposition. According to reports, the bill is supported by the industry’s major trade associations — the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, the American Gas Association and the Association of Oil Pipelines, as well as the Pipeline Safety Trust, a safety advocacy group.

Reportedly, Senator Paul had been holding up passage of the bill for months. Sources say the lone senator staunchly opposed to the measure. Reportedly, two House committees have unanimously approved separate pipeline safety bills that are similar to the Senate bill. Law makers say the differences between those measures are expected to be worked out in the coming weeks, with a single bill brought to the House floor before the end of the year.