Academic journal article Energy Law Journal

The Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002

Academic journal article Energy Law Journal

The Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002

Article excerpt


On December 17, 2002, President George W. Bush signed into law the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 (Act).1 Pipeline safety was the one piece of energy legislation with enough momentum to emerge from the otherwise unsuccessful efforts of the 107th Congress to enact a comprehensive energy bill. The impetus behind the successful passage of pipeline safety legislation stemmed from several factors. First, congressional outrage had not abated in response to recent fatal pipeline accidents, in particular, the 1999 gasoline pipeline explosion in Bellingham, Washington, which killed three people, and the 2000 natural gas pipeline explosion in Carlsbad, New Mexico, which killed ten. Second, reports issued by the General Accounting Office (GAO)2 and the Inspector General's Office3 had questioned the Department of Transportation's Office of Pipeline Safety's (OPS)4 inspection and enforcement policies, and criticized the agency's pace of compliance with congressional mandates and responsiveness to pipeline safety recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).5 Finally, the September 11 terrorist attacks heightened concern about protecting the nation's energy infrastructure, including pipelines, which carry economically critical products through densely populated areas.6

In enacting the 2002 Act, Congress wanted to ensure implementation and enforcement of pipeline safety requirements and compliance with congressional mandates.7 The Act strengthens existing pipeline safety laws by tightening federal inspection and safety requirements and enhances the OPS' enforcement authority. The statute also imposes numerous deadlines for actions by pipeline owners and operators, the Secretary of Transportation (Secretary), and other federal agencies. Many of these deadlines are quite ambitious, requiring various agencies to undertake extensive studies and to take significant actions within two years from the date of enactment. Another notable feature of the Act is that pipelines must implement certain measures, such as implementing comprehensive risk assessment measures and pipeline integrity management programs that meet the criteria established in the Act, whether or not the DOT promulgates implementing regulations. Thus, Congress intends that regulatory delay will not slow the industry's compliance with the Act's mandates.9

This article describes the major issues addressed by the Act and deadlines for certain actions. This article also describes ongoing OPS initiatives that dovetail with the Act's requirements, as well as the OPS' recently proposed regulations that would require gas pipeline operators to undertake comprehensive assessments of their facilities and to implement integrity management programs.10 In order to assist pipelines with the compliance requirements of the Act, a detailed chart containing a description of the regulatory deadlines included in the Act, as well as a description of certain existing OPS initiatives that are related to the Act's requirements, is attached as an Appendix.


As noted above, fatal pipeline accidents were a major impetus to passage of the Act. The statute also reflected Congress' response to questions and concerns about the federal pipeline safety program that were raised in reports published by the GAO and Inspector General's Office following the gasoline pipeline explosion in Bellingham, Washington. Both reports found, among other things, that the OPS had not implemented certain congressional mandates, in particular, those requiring periodic pipeline inspections and the use of safety valves, and requiring the OPS to establish criteria for identifying pipeline facilities located in highly populated areas.11 In addition, the OPS had not adopted certain pipeline safety measures recommended by the NTSB as a result of its investigations of various pipeline accidents.12 Among the recommendations contained in the Inspector General's report was that the OPS seek to finalize congressionally mandated actions and to comply with NTSB recommendations. …

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