The energy industry is pushing ahead with even stronger safety rules in an effort to have a perfect record and give federal officials no reasons to block the construction of new pipelines that would reduce costs for consumers.
The new rule comes after extensive cooperation among the American Petroleum Institute, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to improve an already strong safety record.
According to American Petroleum Institute Group Manager of Midstream and Industry Operations Robin Rorick, the U.S. contains 500,000 miles of oil and gas lines. In 2013 alone, the pipelines carried nearly 15 billion barrels of crude oil.
Given the volume of products on the move, Rorick said the track record was already good.
“That was done where 99.999 percent of our products reached its destination, but as an industry we’re committed to getting that number to 100 percent,” Rorick said.
He said it’s all about making the industry safer across the board.
“We’re going to work with the industry to establish a safety culture for companies, so that for the CEO all the way down to the worker in the field, we’re working with them to develop a program so that safety is at the core of everything that they’re doing,” Rorick said.
“That ensures that the worker who’s operating at the facility can operate and minimize any chance of injury, but it also ensures that we’re doing everything we can to prevent a release from happening that damages the surrounding environment or the community as well.”
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Robin Rorick:
But the change also makes a statement to federal officials that the industry is willing to collaborate with Washington and state governments in an effort to improve a safety record that’s nearly impeccable. The goal is to win approval of critical pipeline projects.
The most famous project in limbo is the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada down to the heart of the U.S. President Obama has vetoed Republican efforts to approve the project despite the State Department’s blessing for the pipeline. At the same time, Obama refuses to accept or reject it.
Rorick said there’s no good reason to block it.
“With regard to Keystone, there were five environmental reviews that demonstrated that Keystone would not provide additional environmental harm,” Rorick said. “The vast majority of the public supports the development of the Keystone XL pipeline. I think the data and the support is there. Unfortunately, the administration is not.”
Politics are also causing problems in the Northeast, and Rorick said New England residents are paying higher energy prices because the industry isn’t allowed to get oil and gas there more efficiently.
“If you look at the Marcellus Shale area that produces natural gas. We’re talking about areas in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York as an example,” he said. “There’s an opportunity there for them to provide natural gas up to the New England states, which suffered last year from a brutal winter.
“On average, folks in New England pay $5 more for their natural gas costs than the rest of the country does simply because we don’t have the infrastructure in place, which is only a few states away, up to the New England area.”
The new rule will focus on individual plants and companies constantly reviewing their safety records and implementing any needed changes. The ongoing evaluations will also allow the entire industry to benefit from the best practices of individual firms. Rorick said companies will make the decision whether to abide by the new standards, but given the wide collaboration in formulating the plan, he expects most in the industry to take part.
Reducing the already small number of accidents could prove difficult. Rorick said there’s a variety of reasons for pipeline problems, but he said one of the most common causes is completely out of the industry’s hands.
“You’ll have everything from operator error to equipment failure. In some cases, you’ll have natural disasters that will cause damage. One of the leading causes for damage is not even within the realm of control within our industry,” Rorick said.
“It’s third party line strikes. It’s someone putting an addition on a house or putting in a new tree and they have a backhoe that comes in and it strikes one of our lines.”