Pollution From Pipelines:

DOT Lacks Prevention Program and Information for Timely Response

RCED-91-60: Published: Jan 28, 1991. Publicly Released: Feb 27, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined federal efforts to prevent and respond to water pollution from petroleum pipeline spills.

GAO found that: (1) the Department of Transportation (DOT) did not establish a program to prevent water pollution caused by pipeline spills; (2) DOT delegated the responsibility for preventing water pollution from transportation and pipeline activities to the Coast Guard; (3) the Coast Guard had a program to prevent water pollution from vessels, but not from pipelines, and had not dedicated the necessary resources to establish such a program; (4) the Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA) had a program to reduce the risk of pipeline accidents, but preventing water pollution was an incidental effect, not a specific goal of the program; (5) DOT began to reevaluate the delegation of responsibility to the Coast Guard for pipeline pollution prevention; (6) federal agencies lacked information needed to adequately plan for pipeline spills and quickly stop and contain ongoing spills; and (7) no responsible federal agency knew the locations and operators of all petroleum pipelines.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 1992, a DOT Executive Order delegated authorities and responsibilities stemming from the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. The Office of Pipeline Safety was delegated responsibility for preventing discharges from pipelines.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should ensure that DOT establishes a program to prevent water-polluting spills from petroleum pipelines. When deciding which agency should implement such a program, the Secretary should consider the Coast Guard's experience in preventing pollution and the Office of Pipeline Safety's expertise in regulating pipeline safety.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOT started a rulemaking that would require operators to prepare maps and other appropriate information in a form suitable for use in emergency response. This information would be provided, on request, to state officials. In addition, RSPA initiated another rulemaking to require that information on water crossings and environmentally sensitive areas be included in maps. Actions were expected to be completed by December 1994.

    Recommendation: Because information on pipeline locations and operators is needed for a timely response to petroleum spills, the Secretary of Transportation should ensure that a DOT agency: (1) collects information on the locations and operators of petroleum pipelines that could cause water pollution; (2) maintains the information in a form suitable for use in spill response; and (3) makes the information accessible to appropriate response officials.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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