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Highlights

The Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 established a risk-based program for gas transmission pipelines--the integrity management program. The program requires operators of natural and other gas transmission pipelines to identify "high consequence areas" where pipeline incidents would most severely affect public safety, such as those occurring in highly populated or frequented areas. Operators must assess pipelines in these areas for safety risks and repair or replace any defective segments. Operators must also submit data on performance measures to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). The 2002 act also directed GAO to assess this program's effects on public safety. Accordingly, we examined (1) the effect on public safety of the integrity management program and (2) PHMSA and state pipeline agencies' plans to oversee operators' implementation of program requirements. To fulfill these objectives, GAO interviewed 51 gas pipeline operators and surveyed all state pipeline agencies.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration To improve the consistency and usefulness of the integrity management performance measures, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to revise the definition of a reportable incident to consider changes in the price of natural gas.
Closed - Implemented
In September 2006, we reported that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's (PHMSA) natural gas pipeline incident reporting requirements do not include an adjustment for changes in the price of natural gas, even though the value of gas released is a key factor in determining whether an incident must be reported. As natural gas prices increase over time, smaller releases of gas from a pipeline meet the definition of an incident and artificially inflate the number of pipeline incidents. We recommended that PHMSA revise the definition of a reportable incident to consider changes in the price of natural gas. In response to this recommendation, PHMSA has proposed revisions in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking "Pipeline Safety: Updates to Pipeline and Liquefied Natural Gas Reporting Requirements. PHMSA proposes to change the definition of a natural gas incident to establish a volumetric basis for reporting rather than a cost basis. This reporting change will more accurately depict the safety performance of gas pipelines over time. PHMSA officials anticipate this rule to be finalized in September 2010. Accomplishment report GAO-10-2625A is being prepared.
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration To improve the consistency and usefulness of the integrity management performance measures, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to establish consistent categories of causes for incidents and leaks on all gas pipeline reports.
Closed - Implemented
In September 2006, we reported that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's (PHMSA) performance measure data was limited by inconsistencies in the reporting of causes of incidents and leaks in high consequence areas compared with the rest of the pipeline system. For example operators reporting a leak within a high consequence area could choose from 3 causes of corrosion, while operators outside a high consequence area used one overall corrosion category. We recommended that PHMSA establish consistent categories of causes for incidents and leaks on all gas pipeline reports. To improve the consistency of categories for causes on incident reports, PHMSA issued a Federal Register notice on September 4, 2008, seeking comments and OMB approval for the paperwork collection burden. The revision was approved by OMB and data collection began on the new forms on January 1, 2010. To improve the consistency of categories for leak causes, PHMSA has proposed revisions for annual reports in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking "Pipeline Safety: Updates to Pipeline and Liquefied Natural Gas Reporting Requirements." PHMSA officials anticipate this rule will be finalized in September 2010. Accomplishment report GAO-10-2629A is being prepared.

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