About Air and Water

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Operators, excavators face revamped pipeline rules

Railroad Commission granted power to levy fines up to $10,000 per day
Galen Scott - Weatherford Democrat - June 27, 2007

The Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) recently announced new rules to help protect the state’s 200,000 miles of intrastate pipelines — more intrastate pipelines than any other state in the nation.

Historically, domestic oil and gas exploration has taken place in rural, underdeveloped parts of the country, but the Barnett Shale is buried beneath some of the most densely populated areas in North Texas. When they run through urban development, pipelines can become especially vulnerable.

According to the RRC, damage by third-parties — homeowners, contractors, city or state employees or anyone digging near pipelines — is the leading cause of pipeline accidents.

In March, an excavator laying pipeline for Crosstex Energy Services struck a pipeline near the East Parker County community of Dicey. Though no serious injuries were reported, the accident ignited a towering stack of flames and the concerns of local residents already worried about the growing number of petrocarbon pipelines crisscrossing Parker County.

Pipeline accidents are happening more and more often in Texas. Railroad Commission Chairperson Elizabeth Ames Jones reported receiving 149 notifications of third-party pipeline damage in 2004. That number increased to 275 the next year and in 2006 it jumped even higher to 301 reports, or an average of six incidents each week.

Jones said the RRC’s new rules are designed to stop the trend toward increasing numbers of damage reports.

The RRC held three public meetings in 2006 to gather input on proposed rules from pipeline operators and contractors and other groups that dig near lines. Based on these meetings, the rules came to incorporate 10 “best practices” from a national pipeline protection safety organization called the Common Ground Alliance.

And for the first time, the RRC has the authority to issue fines for rule violations. Monetary penalties made possible by the new laws allow for up to $10,000 per day for each violation. The RRC also can also impose non-monetary penalties, such as issuing a warning or requiring mandatory attendance at safety training.

Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams expects the new rules to bring about a significant reduction in the number of pipeline incidents and said the RRC will continue monitoring data in order to gauge impact.

Fellow Commissioner Victor Carrillo emphasized the importance of having enforcement teeth built in to the state’s damage prevention efforts and said the action, “will help achieve a key agency goal in enhancing public safety regarding underground pipelines in Texas.”

See Weatherford-Democrat

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