Need To Assess Federal Role in Regulating and Enforcing Pipeline Safety

RCED-84-102: Published: Jul 10, 1984. Publicly Released: Jul 17, 1984.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed federal gas and hazardous liquids pipeline safety programs.

The Department of Transportation's (DOT) goal is to perform a comprehensive annual inspection of each pipeline operator under its jurisdiction. GAO found that, in 1983, DOT performed comprehensive inspections of only 24 percent of these operators. As of April 1984, DOT had 17 regional office inspectors, which GAO believes is insufficient to carry out the agency's inspection and enforcement responsibilities. State participation in pipeline inspection programs is voluntary; therefore, DOT cannot require the states to maintain their current level of inspection activity, assume responsibility for additional intrastate pipelines, or correct deficiencies in their programs. A number of pipeline facilities and commodities transported by pipeline not currently being regulated by DOT, including rural gas gathering lines, gas service lines, and hazardous liquids storage facilities, may need to be regulated depending on the severity of the associated safety problems. GAO believes that, despite current staffing and resource limitations, DOT can take actions to make its inspection activities more efficient.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Various studies by DOT, including one issued in July 1986, have shown that no further legislation is required.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should instruct the Administrator, RSPA, to: (1) gather and analyze the data necessary to determine whether there are sufficient hazards, involving personal injury or environmental damage, to warrant regulation of rural gas gathering lines, gas service lines, hazardous liquids storage facilities, and substances transported in liquefied form that are not presently regulated; and (2) take appropriate actions to amend the regulations and, in the case of rural gas gathering lines and gas service lines, propose the legislation needed to provide coverage of those additional pipeline facilities that warrant coverage.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, RSPA, to better define state inspector qualifications and training requirements and assist the states in obtaining the needed inspector training by: (1) identifying what knowledge and skills are necessary to conduct effective inspections of operators; (2) determining what training the state's inspection work force needs to conduct effective inspections; and (3) working with the states to determine the most efficient and effective way for all state inspectors to obtain the identified training needs within a reasonable time period.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, RSPA, to improve state agency inspection activity reporting and OOE monitoring of state agency pipeline safety programs by: (1) using more performance-oriented measures to evaluate state agency actions in enforcing federal pipeline safety standards; (2) providing the regional offices with additional guidance to ensure consistent interpretations of the questions on the monitoring form; (3) updating criteria used to determine the minimum level of state inspection activity, or establishing new criteria for this purpose; (4) clarifying instructions provided for data collection and reporting by state agencies; and (5) having OOE regional offices review and advise OOE headquarters as to the probable accuracy of the program activity data at the time the state agencies submit such data and devote more time to verifying the accuracy of this data during their annual monitoring visits.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A study was made and the resulting report is under review by DOT. A cost-benefit analysis found that it was not beneficial to establish a mandatory quality assurance program.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA), to: (1) evaluate and, if the benefits outweigh the cost, establish and implement a mandatory quality assurance program for interstate pipeline operators; (2) complete and update its inspection work load by dividing all interstate gas and liquid operators into common inspection units and by including the master meter and LP gas operators that are under its jurisdiction; and (3) require Office of Operations and Enforcement (OOE) regions to expand and refine the inspection work load and activity data they maintain and report to headquarters to include, for each category of operator, the number of inspection units subject to inspection and the number of units that have been inspected one or more times during the year, and a breakout of the number of inspections performed by type of inspection.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: RSPA has issued inspection program guidance, which defines specific elements and roles in conducting safety inspections. At the time of the GAO review, it was not a defined inspection program.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, RSPA, to develop and present to the congressional oversight and appropriations committees, alternatives to redefine the federal role and responsibilities for ensuring the safety of intrastate pipelines, including hazardous liquids pipelines. These alternatives should propose different combinations of responsibilities for intrastate operators not currently under a state's jurisdiction, as well as defining the federal responsibility for assessing state agency programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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