Pipeline Safety:

Status of Improving Oversight of the Pipeline Industry

GAO-02-517T: Published: Mar 19, 2002. Publicly Released: Mar 19, 2002.

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The Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) oversees 2.2 million miles of pipelines that transport potentially dangerous materials, such as oil and natural gas. OPS has been slow to improve its oversight of the pipeline industry and implement critical pipeline safety improvements. As a result, OPS has the lowest rate of any transportation agency for implementing the recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board. In recent years, OPS has taken several steps to improve its oversight of the pipeline industry, including requiring "integrity management" programs for individual operators to assess their pipelines for risks, take action to mitigate the risks, and develop program performance measures. OPS has also (1) revised forms and procedures to collect more complete and accurate data, which will enable OPS to better assess the causes of incidents and focus on the greatest risks to pipelines; (2) allowed more states to oversee a broader range of interstate pipeline safety activities; and (3) increased the use of fines. OPS has made progress in responding to recommendations from the Safety Board and statutory requirements, but some key open recommendations and requirements, such as requiring pipeline operators to periodically inspect their pipelines, are now more than a decade old. OPS faces challenges that include (1) developing performance measures for the integrity management approach, (2) ensuring sufficient resources and expertise to oversee operators' integrity management programs, (3) providing consistent and effective enforcement of integrity management program requirements, and (4) issuing requirements for integrity management programs for operators of gas transmission pipelines.

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