Gas Pipeline Safety — another neglected hazard comes to the forefront

Another example of 20/20 hindsight. The pipeline safety issue has a lot in common with the deep sea oil drilling matter: regulations dominated by industry for their benefit.  ProPublica just published Fatal Pipeline Accident Turns Attention to Nation’s Aging Pipelines

…the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration [in the Dept. of Transportation], the federal agency that regulates 2.3 million miles of oil and natural gas pipelines, largely relies on standards written by the oil and gas industry. It has about 100 inspectors, leaving industry a great deal of latitude with inspections. (Even after the blast, state utility regulators ordered PG&E  to inspect its own network of gas pipelines.)

And according to The Washington Independent, federal regulators are required to inspect only about 7 percent [6] of the country’s natural gas pipelines. That percentage is based on how populated the surrounding area is, and not the actual conditions of the pipelines.

Apparently, the needed improvements to the regulatory system are known.

Oil Spill Disaster – regulating oil and gas drilling is hard to do

One has to wonder if the “public interest” is being served, given that the regulation of oil and gas drilling at both federal and state levels is under attack by industry forces.

See Drilling Industry and Gubernatorial Candidates Move to Weaken Some State Regulations, ProPublica, August 5.

As the federal government focuses on strengthening regulations for deepwater drilling, the gas and oil industry is quietly trying to weaken state regulations for drilling on land.

Oil Spill Disaster – July 6 – conflicts re regulation

To say “It’s complicated” is an understatement when it comes to how to regulate offshore oil drilling.  Obama Decried, Then Used, Some Bush Drilling Policies, WSJ July 5.

The Obama administration’s actions in the court case exemplify the dilemma the White House faced in developing its energy policy. In his presidential campaign, President Obama criticized the Bush administration for being too soft on the oil industry and vowed to support greener energy forms.  But, once in office, President Obama ended up backing offshore drilling, bowing to political and fiscal realities, even as his administration’s own scientists and Democratic lawmakers warned about its risks.

The dimensions of the problem seem almost endless.  See this less-than-cheerful bit of information about the size of the oil reservoir. Relief well is last best hope to contain gusher. AP, July 5.

Chief Executive Tony Hayward said in June that the reservoir of oil is believed to hold about 2.1 billion gallons  of oil. If the problem was never fixed, it could mean another two years of oil spilling based on the current flow rate until the reservoir is drained.

Oil Spill Update – June 18

Latest news this am:

Obama’s spill recovery chief will be part-time.  Yesterday, I noted his lack of experience with long-term recovery from disaster and today we learn he will keep his existing, demanding job. This appointment does not make good sense, in my opinion.

President Barack Obama’s point man charting a new future for the oil-poisoned Gulf Coast  will do the job part-time. Some environmentalists said the job demands someone’s full attention.

His job is no less than rebuilding a region that was still suffering from Hurricane Katrina and beset by decades of environmental problems even before the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

Why Living Wills Fail. NYT June 17.  In my view, this articles points out one more reason not to use template plans for emergency response.

At the Tuesday hearing of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment,  the committee posted  the Gulf of Mexico spill-response plans of five companies (BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Shell) “… that demonstrated striking, peculiar and disconcerting similarities.

… it turns out that all the plans were written by the same subcontractor. All contain some goofy details — including how to protect walruses, sea lions and seals, which don’t actually live in the Gulf. More worrying, given the apparent and complete failure of the BP response at Deepwater Horizon, it appears that none of the major oil companies are more (or less) prepared for such events. [The firm was identified as The Response Group.]

President Obama is now experiencing a form of backlash against years of regulatory capture — and against the pathetic nature of “living wills” for failed deepwater oil wells. If he is able to draw any more general lessons — and this remains far from clear — the president would be well advised to reflect on other activities that are simply so dangerous that our obvious and repeated regulatory weaknesses mean we would be better off simply prohibiting those activities (e.g., some kinds of drilling, or having big banks).

BP oil spill: MMS shortcomings include ‘dearth of regulations’. According to the Christian Science Monitor, June 17,  a new report got to the core of problems at the Minerals Management Agency.

The federal agency charged with overseeing the offshore oil and gas industry was ill-prepared to do its job because of a severe shortage of inspectors, a “dearth of regulations,” and a “completely backwards” approach to investigating spills and accidents.
Mary Kendall, acting inspector general for the Interior Department, shown in this May 26 photo, testifying about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico at the House Natural Resources Committee hearing.