Safety Board Recommends Better Pipeline Oversight, Safety Protocols

Each year, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) releases its “Most Wanted List,” a summary of the top 10 changes it advocates to increase the safety of American transportation and infrastructure systems.

As part of the recently-released list of top priorities for 2013, the NTSB addressed safety concerns related to the nation’s oil and gas pipelines.

America’s pipelines total over 2.5 million miles in length and deliver vital resources to homes and businesses. While pipelines are safer than vehicular transport of hazardous materials, accidents, when they occur, can be tragic.

The NTSB report advocates stricter oversight of industry operators and says many accidents are caused by inadequate operator-level safety programs. The agency advocates routine evaluation of operators’ safety protocols and federal-state cooperation to identify shortcomings and ensure they are corrected.

The board also pointed out the importance of timely responses to pipeline emergencies, identifying two 2010 accidents in which they say operators were slow to understand the nature of pipeline leaks, delaying the implementation of an appropriate response.

The report said pipelines in residential areas should have automatic valves that shut off the flow of oil or gas when critical levels are reached. Remote shutoff valves are particularly beneficial in that they allow operators to cut off flow and isolate ruptures sooner, minimizing the resulting damage and potential for explosion.

Finally, the Most Wanted List identified the need for effective emergency response, saying that operators should notify local 911 call centers as standard procedure during emergencies and conduct periodic safety drills and reviews of their response procedures.

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