PHMSA Proposes New Rule to Increase Enforcement of Pipeline Excavation Programs

The proposed rule will encourage states to strengthen their excavation damage prevention enforcement programs, provide more protection for underground pipelines, and allow for federal enforcement against violators in cases where state enforcement may not occur.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has proposed new procedures geared to strengthen excavation damage prevention programs and increase penalties for violators.

Excavation damage continues to be a leading cause of all U.S. pipeline failures and is the single greatest threat to the safety, reliability, and integrity of the natural gas distribution system. Excavation activities accounted for more than 25 percent of fatalities resulting from pipeline failures in the U.S. between 2002 and 2011.

“Safety is our top priority,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “It is important for states to have strong and effective enforcement programs as we work together to crack down on violators of these important laws.”

The proposed rule will encourage states to strengthen their excavation damage prevention enforcement programs, provide more protection for underground pipelines, and allow for federal enforcement against violators in cases where state enforcement may not occur. Specifically, it would revise and strengthen the federal Pipeline Safety Regulations by establishing:

  • Criteria and an administrative process to determine the adequacy of a state’s excavation damage prevention law enforcement program;
  • Federal requirements that PHMSA will enforce against excavators in states determined to have inadequate damage prevention enforcement programs; and
  • An enforcement process to impose federal fines and penalties for violations.

These new procedures would also address a congressional directive requiring PHMSA to establish procedures to evaluate state damage prevention enforcement programs. By law, PHMSA must establish these criteria prior to any attempt to conduct federal enforcement proceedings in a state where an excavator damages a pipeline.

“Those who violate damage prevention laws must be held accountable,” said PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman. “We will continue to work to strengthen damage prevention laws, partner with states to strengthen their enforcement programs, and impose stiffer fines and penalties for these types of pipeline failures.”

For more details about the proposed rule, including comments received from the agency’s Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, visit PHMSA’a website at www.phmsa.dot.gov.

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