Pipeline Oversight Given to State

“Governor Gary Locke has signed a bill that establishes a comprehensive new program to help prevent more pipeline tragedies in Washington State.The bill, known as the Washington Pipeline Safety Act, sets us on a clear path toward stronger and more effective regulation of pipelines and better prevention of accidents, Locke said.The governor recently persuaded the federal Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) to give Washington authority to inspect interstate pipelines. The OPS will soon grant Washington authority over 2,500 miles of petroleum and natural gas pipelines, even as the agency is withdrawing authority from other states. The new authority may help reduce the chance of accidents by increasing monitoring.That authority, along with the pipeline act, came after three young people died as a result of the June 10, 1999 gas pipeline explosion in Bellingham. The explosion was sparked after hundreds of thousands of gallons of gasoline began leaking from an interstate pipeline carrying fuel through Bellingham’s Whatcom Falls Park. The blast destroyed a mile-and-a-half stretch of the banks of Whatcom Creek. Locke said the pipeline act, sponsored by Senator Harriet Spanel and Representative Kelli Linville, does several things to improve pipeline safety in Washington. The bill:- Creates a comprehensive program of hazardous liquid pipeline safety by having the Utilities and Transportation Commission adopt new regulations, give technical assistance to local governments and inspect pipeline company records and reports.- Establishes a citizen advisory committee to help the public, local governments and the industry work with the state on pipeline safety.- Strengthens the program to avoid pipeline damage from excavation and digging by setting up a single number to Call-Before-You-Dig and increasing penalties for failing to do so.The act gives the UTC the authority and responsibility of administering the new law. As a result of an agreement worked out with the federal Office of Pipeline Safety, the UTC has new authority to inspect interstate pipelines in Washington State. The state has 23,000 miles of underground pipelines that carry fossil fuels. Of that, 2,500 miles are interstate pipelines.Locke said he will work with House and Senate leadership to secure additional funding for the UTC to carry out the added responsibilities of the act.”