Who Oversees Pipeline Safety?

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pipeline safety stakeholders

Pipeline companies are responsible for the safety of pipelines, operating under a comprehensive series of regulations from construction to operation and maintenance.  Federal and state pipeline inspectors evaluate whether operators are being diligent in meeting regulatory requirements, conducting proper inspections, and making necessary repairs.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issues pipeline safety regulations addressing construction, operation, and maintenance, inspects pipeline operators, and enforces against violations of pipeline safety laws and regulations.  PHMSA regulates interstate and intrastate hazardous liquids transmission pipelines, except that PHMSA approves some state agencies to exercise interstate inspection authority and/or intrastate inspection and enforcement authority.  States may issue regulations over intrastate pipelines if they are consistent with federal regulations.  These state pipeline safety agencies are usually members of the National Association of Pipeline Safety Representatives (NAPSR).

PHMSA also regulates onshore crude oil gathering pipelines that could impact highly populated areas, cross commercially navigable waterways, or affect rural unusually sensitive areas.   PHMSA regulates gathering pipelines greater than 6 5/8” diameter in all “non-rural” areas and rural areas (1) within a quarter-mile of an “unusually sensitive area” and (2) operating above a certain pressure.  Unusually sensitive areas are determined by PHMSA and include drinking water sources and ecological resources unusually sensitive to environmental damage from a liquids release.  Other gathering lines can be regulated by states or the Interior Department.  

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigates some pipeline accidents and issues reports and recommendations to regulators, companies, and industry groups.