A Crash Course in Pipeline Safety and Hazardous Material Transportation

Acting Director of Program Development at the DOT explained the risks associated with underground pipelines.

On day 1 of NSC 2016, a session on hazardous materials and pipeline safety helped attendees fully realize the potential risks associated with pipeline transportation, including crude oil and natural gas.

Sam Hall, Senior Program Manager and Acting Director of Program Development for the U.S. DOT, discussed the role of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in moving 66% percent of the energy in the U.S. across 2.7 million miles of pipelines.

In the era of the 24/7 news cycle, the XL Keystone Pipeline raised public awareness of the potential safety hazards and environmental consequences of pipeline transportation. According to Hall, it is up to the PHMSA to try and eliminate all accidents in what is already considered a relatively safe practice, compared to rail and road transportation.

Potential hazards include what is called "radiant heat," which can get extremely hot while putting out massive flames in what Hall called a "giant Bunsen burner."

Some of the major principles of pipeline safety that Hall highlighted include: The pipeline operator alone is responsible for safe operations, meaning not the federal or state government, and the regulator can influence operator performance, meaning that even though those governing bodies aren't responsible, they still have a duty to remain active in the process.

1 in 5 serious gas distribution accidents occur due to excavation damage, a statistic Hall says the department is determined to improve upon. It's important to note that even though consumption of energy continues to be at an all-time high, accidents continue to trend downward.

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