President Barack Obama signed into law The Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act of 2016, or PIPES Act, with a goal to prevent a natural gas leak like one that caused thousands of sickened residents to flee their homes around Porter Ranch, California.
The worst natural gas leak in the nation from Oct. 23 to Feb. 18 forced the evacuation of 8,000 families and spewed nearly 100,000 metric tons of methane from a ruptured well at the 3,600-acre Aliso Canyon storage facility run by the Southern California Natural Gas Company.
President Obama signed a bill Wednesday to reauthorize the federal government’s pipeline safety program through 2019, increasing the agency’s funding 2 percent annually during that period and gives regulators new emergency authorities. Obama’s signature follows unanimous passage in both the House and the Senate.
The law gives the secretary of Transportation, who oversees PHMSA, the power to quickly issue emergency orders for the pipeline industry, for example, if an incident exposes a widespread problem.
The bill also outlines three provisions concerning Enbridge-owned Line 5 running through the Mackinac Straits and other Great Lake pipelines, including designating the Great Lakes as a High Consequence Area, improving oil spill response plans to address ice cover, and requiring critical reviews of dangers associated with pipeline age and integrity. Enbridge will be required to inspect the internal and external inspection safety of the two pipelines at least once a year. Their annual inspection requirement applies to pipelines that rest more than 150 feet under water, and Line 5 runs to depths of up to 290 feet under water.
PHMSA is now required to develop national regulations for the construction and operation of underground natural gas storage facilities and to continue to work on a large set of mandates from the 2011 pipeline safety law, many of which the agency has not completed.
“We came together, Republicans and Democrats, to improve pipeline safety, and we got the job done with this important law,” a bipartisan group of House lawmakers, led by the top members of the Transportation and Energy and Commerce committees, said in a Wednesday statement following Obama’s signature.
“Every day, American families and businesses depend on safe and efficient energy transportation,” they said. “The PIPES Act will ensure that our nation’s 2.6 million miles of pipelines continue to provide critical access to energy, and we are proud of the bipartisan work that made this effort a success.”