Changes in Pipeline Safety Since June 10, 1999
When the pipeline tragedy happened here in Bellingham, there were no regulations that required a pipeline company to ever inspect its pipeline after it was put in the ground, and if a company did inspect its pipeline, there were no regulations that required any action based on the findings. There were no regulations that required maps of pipelines to be available to local government or that enforcement records of pipeline companies be made easily available to the public. There were no regulations defining how control rooms were managed, and no regulations that protected whistleblowers within pipeline companies. Fines were low, not used very often, and there was no independent organization focused on ensuring that pipeline companies and regulators did what they were supposed to. There was only very limited pipeline incident data available to the public, and the data that was available was often incorrect or meaningless.
Since our pipeline tragedy, most all of the above pipeline safety deficiencies have been corrected. Based to a large degree on the Bellingham tragedy and efforts started here in Bellingham, the U.S. Congress passed two major new pipeline safety bills since 1999. The federal Office of Pipeline Safety has been held accountable, and the culture within that organization has changed dramatically toward ensuring safe pipelines in communities nationwide. Most significantly, pipelines in populated areas are now required to be inspected on a regular schedule which has lead to tens of thousands of anomalies in pipelines being dug up and repaired nationwide.
Efforts started right here in Bellingham have made pipelines safer across the country, and have undoubtedly prevented some tragedies. We should all be proud of this positive outcome from such a terrible disaster, although there is still more to do.
Here are some of the pipeline safety improvements that have been instituted in the past ten years.
- Integrity Management & Inspections
- Greater Transparency in pipeline safety information
- Increased Fines
- Public Pipeline Maps
- Whistle Blower Protections
- 811 – Call Before You Dig
- Community Technical Assistance Grants
- Excess Flow Valves on Distribution Pipelines
- Control Room Management
- State Pipeline Safety Advisory Committees
- Initiatives on Local Land Use and Pipelines