On January 3, 2012, President Obama signed the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act of 2011 (“Pipeline Safety Act” or the “Act”) into law.  This Act marks the culmination of bipartisan efforts in the House and the Senate to examine and improve the state of pipeline safety regulation. The Act gives enhanced safety review authority to the Department of Transportation (“DOT”).  The new rules stemmed from pipeline safety incidents in San Bruno, California, Allentown, Pennsylvania and Marshall, Michigan.  The Act also authorizes funding for provisions of the pipeline statute in the U.S. Code related to gas and hazardous liquids through fiscal year 2015.

Notably, the Pipeline Safety Act provides enhanced civil penalty authority for violations of the DOT’s regulations regarding compliance and safety.  The Act increases the maximum penalty level for an individual violation from $100,000 to $200,000 and moves the fine for a series of violations from $1,000,000 to $2,000,000.  The Pipeline Safety Act also provides that the maximum amount of civil penalties for administrative enforcement actions will not apply to certain enforcement actions.

The Pipeline Safety Act also requires that the DOT study several areas of safety technology and prepare a report evaluating the state of existing integrity management requirements and leak detection systems for hazardous liquid pipelines.  The report will also make recommendations on whether expanded or enhanced requirements are necessary.  The Secretary of Transportation (“Secretary”) will decide two years after the enactment of the Act if requiring the use of automatic or remote-controlled shut-off valves are necessary.  Additionally, the Act also requires the Secretary to examine the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendation regarding the use of excess flow valves and determine if it is appropriate to require the use of excess flow valves on new or completely replaced distribution branch services and other specific facilities.  Further, the Act requires that the Secretary evaluate if integrity management system requirements, which currently apply only to high-consequence areas (high density population areas, or other specific facilities identified by statute) should be expanded to other areas.  Finally, the Act charges the Secretary with issuing a report one year after the Act is enacted on pipeline leak detection systems and whether new standards and technology should be employed in this area. 

In addition, the Secretary is charged with developing the minimum safety standards for transportation of gaseous carbon dioxide by pipelines and verifying the records of the owners and operators of intrastate and interstate gas pipelines to make sure that the records reflect the actual characteristics of the pipelines, and confirm the maximum allowable operating pressure of the pipelines.  Pursuant to the Act, the Secretary will also issue regulations no later than 18 months after the Act is enacted in order to conduct tests to confirm the strength of previously untested pipelines in high consequence areas.

A copy of the Pipeline Safety Act is available here.