New Voices Project
New Voices for Pipeline Safety
Our 2011-2012 Technical Assistance Grant
Creating A Larger Public Voice For Pipeline Safety
Sometimes when there are opportunities for public involvement in pipeline safety issues, there is no public voice to make itself heard. We wanted to start changing that. We hoped to form a new group of leaders in pipeline safety advocacy, and collectively develop a strategy to improve representation of the public in pipeline safety issues. With the help of a recent grant from PHMSA we hoped to establish a growing number of citizens and local government representatives with the knowledge and commitment to take a more active role in participating in various pipeline safety efforts.
Many people become involved in pipeline safety issues because of pipeline incidents or pipelines planned for their communities. Individuals have learned a little – or a lot – about the particular operator or regulator or aspect of pipeline safety or planning that affected or threatened to affect their family or their community or their favorite place. Sometimes when individuals get that far, the crisis of the moment passes, the relevant decision is made, the pipeline goes back in the ground or goes somewhere else, and the concerned individuals move back to other, more pressing, aspects of their own lives. But the pipeline safety risks remain, the same decision-making processes remain, public officials who can’t hope to know enough about pipelines to make informed decisions remain, and pipeline safety goes off the radar until another tragedy occurs in another community. One of our goals is to bring people together, let them share their various experiences and knowledge, and jointly develop a strategy for increasing and sustaining the level of communication, partnership and involvement of the public with pipeline operators and regulators. We also hope that this group will find ways to continue to share information, expertise and opportunities for involvement to make pipelines even safer.
Here’s how we approached this: The level of commitment required is fairly minimal, but we looked for individuals who will be active participants. We sent an initial survey to gauge participants’ current level of knowledge about various aspects of pipeline safety and to find out what their interests are. Then, every couple of weeks from February to April 2012 we sent some information to read on a different specific pipeline safety topic. In between we discussed the issues on the listserv setup to facilitate gommunication for the group. At the end of the project, after we have sent out all the information pieces, we’ll do another short survey to see if we have been successful in raising people’s understanding of the various issues. In early June, 45 of us gathered near San Bruno for a couple of days to meet, share experiences, discuss the various types of public arenas where more public involvement is needed, and develop a strategy for improving and sustaining public representation in those arenas. The agenda for that meeting can be found here.
The Group: We originally identified 58 people from 21 states and D.C. There are people who have been directly affected by the recent spills from the Enbridge and Chevron pipelines, and some who lost family members and neighbors in the Bellingham tragedy. There is representation from neighborhood associations, environmental groups, and unions, as well as people concerned and affected by the new pipelines springing up from the rash of new drilling in the Marcellus, Barnett, and Bakken formations. We have property owners concerned about their safety and investments, people concerned about the water they drink and recreate on, and people concerned about the safety of new pipelines proposed across the country. To ensure access to technical expertise we also included a small handful of state regulators and pipeline industry “advisors” on the listserv to ensure our technical safety discussions were accurate, and to broaden those discussions. Nearly all the members, and the technical advisors, are listed with bios at the link on this page.
The Commitment: Since this was a large commitment on our part we ideally wanted participants to take on one commitment to participate in pipeline safety improvements in some way. It could be anything, for example: writing an op-ed piece in your local newspaper, attending a meeting of a local emergency management committee to ask about their preparedness for a pipeline incident, talking to a group of planners about PIPA implementation, tracking and communicating about pipeline safety efforts in your state legislature, sending in comments on a PHMSA rulemaking, commenting on a FERC application for a new gas pipeline, participating in a utility rate case seeking to pay for pipeline replacement projects, reviewing industry public awareness materials to help make them more meaningful, or working with your state real estate commission to have the presence of a transmission pipeline be a mandatory disclosure in real estate transactions.