Natural Gas Pipeline Safety 1994 to 1997: The Change to a New Safety Paradigm

The safe and reliable transportation of America’s energy needs has long been a priority of the natural gas transmission industry. Year after year, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) statistics prove the industry to be the safest in the country. And while the safety record is enviable, pipeline companies conduct extensive and on-going safety programs, continuously seeking new ways to improve safety, reliability and efficiency.

Figure 1

In October 1996, President Clinton signed into law the Accountable Pipeline Safety and Partnership Act of 1996. The enactment of new pipeline safety legislation heralds in a new era in pipeline safety by adopting performance based standards that recognize the one-size fits all approach to regulation is not the best way to maintain the integrity and safety of America’s pipeline network.

This paper provides an overview of the events and initiatives that led to the reauthorization of pipeline safety legislation in the 104th Congress and a shift in the safety paradigm toward a risk based standard of regulation.

Beginning with an overview of the U.S. pipeline industry and the regulatory environment prior to 1994, the report outlines the industry, regulatory and congressional initiatives introduced following the Edison, New Jersey incident. The paper also highlights the application of risk management principles to the operation and maintenance of natural gas pipelines. It concludes with a discussion of the synergies of the efforts of industry and government to develop new pipeline safety management methods, and offers a look at what the future holds for the natural gas pipeline industry.