Flathead Beacon: After Accidents, Tougher Pipeline Rules Proposed

Republican and Democratic lawmakers are considering plans that could spur major upgrades to the nation’s aging energy pipelines, driven by a string of recent oil spills, deadly natural gas blasts and what they call federal regulators’ inaction.

Since last summer, major pipeline accidents have destroyed neighborhoods in California and Pennsylvania and fouled waterways in Montana and Michigan. That’s shaken confidence in the system and exposed gaps in oversight of the sprawling network of underground pipelines.

Now, politicians from both parties are pushing measures that would tighten control of the industry, which currently gives companies broad leeway to make sure their pipelines are running safely. The new ideas include using modern technologies to detect leaks and shut down pipes during emergencies, replacing aging cast-iron pipes and tightening rules for pipeline stream crossings, all problems exposed in recent ruptures and explosions.

“The fact of the matter is we have pipelines almost every-damn-where,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. John Dingell, who introduced a pipeline safety bill with many of those elements last week with his Republican colleague, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, also of Michigan. “They’re running through parks and refuges, in rural America and in the middle of cities and in this mobile society the risk grows all the time.”

Industry representatives vow to push back against technology mandates they describe as unworkable, and they oppose new rules for tens of thousands of unregulated pipelines in oil and gas fields.

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