Thursday, September 12, 2013

Federal pipeline safety chief tells Exxon and co. regulatory process is "kind of dying"

Posted By on Thu, Sep 12, 2013 at 5:39 PM

click to enlarge JEFFREY WIESE: PHMSA official encourages pipeline industry to self-regulate. - VIA INSIDECLIMATE NEWS
  • Via InsideClimate News
  • JEFFREY WIESE: PHMSA official encourages pipeline industry to self-regulate.
Our news partner InsideClimate News has a new report that's essential reading for anyone who's been following the aftermath of the Mayflower oil spill. ICN reports that Jeffrey Weise, the head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Administration's (PHMSA) Office of Pipeline Safety, confessed to an industry crowd in July that he has little ability to make pipeline operators do right and the industry needs to self-regulate.

"Do I think I can hurt a major international corporation with a $2 million civil penalty? No," he said.

Because generating a new pipeline rule can take as long as three years, Wiese said PHMSA is creating a YouTube channel to persuade the industry to voluntarily improve its safety operations. "We'll be trying to socialize these concepts long before we get to regulations."

Wiese's pessimism about the viability of the pipeline regulatory system is at odds with the Obama administration's insistence that the nation's pipeline infrastructure is safe and its regulatory regime robust. In a speech last year, President Obama ordered regulatory agencies like PHMSA to help expedite the building of new pipelines "in a way that protects the health and safety of the American people."

Wiese's remarks also conflict with industry's view. Brian Straessle, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, which represents much of the oil and gas industry in Washington, D.C., said the industry "is highly regulated at the state and federal level, and there are strong standards in place to govern the pipeline infrastructure that helps fuel our economy.

"Pipeline operators have every incentive to protect the environment and their financial health by preventing incidents," Straessle said.

But Wiese's remarks ring true with people who've long been concerned about pipelines near their homes.

Why is PHMSA so toothless? Money, for one, ICN reports: Congressional gridlock has kept the agency's pipeline safety budget flat for the last three years at $108 million, which affords the office only 135 inspectors to oversee 2.6 million miles of pipeline. 

Remember, whether Exxon's Pegasus pipeline goes back online is ultimately up to PHMSA.

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