PHMSA

Fri, 2014-03-28 06:26Justin Mikulka
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Feds Weaken New Oil-By-Rail Safety Regulations Days After Announcing Them

Oil train in Montana

Nine days after announcing new regulations designed to improve oil-by-rail safety, the Department of Transportation quietly weakened the rules for testing rail cars and exempted shippers of bitumen from having to meet the new regulations.

The department had been under pressure from industry since announcing new regulations in response to a round of testing on shipments of Bakken crude oil that found companies had classified crudes as less hazardous than they were in 11 of 18 rail cars.

The tanker cars that exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in July of 2013 were also carrying Bakken crude that was misclassified.  The result of these errors is that first responders can arrive at a scene and expect a crude oil fire and instead find a “river of napalm”, as they did in Lac-Megantic.

Fri, 2014-03-07 13:51Julie Dermansky
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Whistleblower Evan Voke’s Evidence Against TransCanada Whitewashed By Regulators

Pipeline safety regulators in North America have done nothing but write warning letters to TransCanada in the two years since former employee Evan Vokes revealed evidence indicating the company had been breaking the rules.

A recently released report by the Canadian National Energy Board on TransCanada's integrity management programs stated: “There are areas where the company was found to be out of compliance.” The board gave TransCanada 30 days to come up with a plan to fix things internally.

In response, Vokes released a statement through the advocacy group, Public Citizen stating:

The Canadian government's audit criticizing TransCanada’s failings is a start, but leaves numerous safety concerns unaddressed. An audit based on paper and interviews only cannot catch non-compliance in the field. In my experience, TransCanada’s management failings are systemic and won’t be fixed simply by reviewing what TransCanada says its policies are on paper. These kind of reviews have not fixed the problem in the past and they aren’t sufficient now. Time and again, TransCanada’s internal and third-party audit systems have failed to catch the repeated substandard practice of engineering in the construction and maintenance of its pipelines. Unless regulators in Canada and the United States step up to the plate to ensure compliance in the field, future ruptures and risks to Americans are inevitable.”

The Canadian Senate held hearings in 2013 about the transport of hazardous materials after Vokes went to the media with what he said was proof that TransCanada was breaking the law. During the hearings the National Energy board testified they had verified much of the evidence Vokes provided.

The Senate’s report cites the National Energy Board's conclusion that TransCanada's incidents of non-compliance do not represent immediate threats to the safety of people or the environment. The report notes the board advanced its previously scheduled audit of TransCanada to include the specific concerns raised by Vokes, but recommends no further action.

“The lack of accountability with regulators is appalling,” Vokes told DeSmog Blog. He says he came forward because the oath he took to become an engineer requires him to put public safety first.

Fri, 2013-12-20 09:45Steve Horn
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Dollarocracy: U.S. Congressmen Refuse to Address Keystone XL Southern Half Spill Concerns

What's the U.S. congressional response to the safety issues with the 485-mile southern half of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline raised by Public Citizen's Texas office? Mostly what Simon & Garfunkel called “The Sound of Silence” in their famous song.

DeSmogBlog contacted more than three dozen members of the U.S. Congress representing both political parties to get their take on Public Citizen's alarming findings in its November investigation (including dents, metal that had to be patched up and pipeline segments labeled “junk”), but got little in the way of substantive responses.

Set to open for business on January 22approved via an Executive Order by President Barack Obama in March 2012 and rebranded the “Gulf Coast Pipeline Project” by TransCanada, the southern half of the pipeline has garnered far less media coverage than its U.S.-Canada border-crossing brother to the north, Keystone XL's northern half.

Over two dozen members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote a letter to President Obama on December 12 expressing concern over the conflicts-of-interest in the U.S. State Department's environmental review process for the northern half of the line.

But none of them would comment on concerns with the southern half of the line raised in the Public Citizen report after multiple queries via e-mail from DeSmogBlog.

Thu, 2013-12-12 14:45Steve Horn
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Federal Pipeline Safety Agency Approves Startup of Keystone XL Southern Half

DeSmogBlog has learned that TransCanada cleared the final hurdle for the southern half of its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, receiving a green light last week from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) following a review of several safety concerns.

TransCanada announced this week that it has begun injecting oil into the southern half of its Keystone XL pipeline in preparation for commercial operations.  

Leading up to PHMSA giving Keystone XL south the go-ahead to start up, Public Citizen raised several questions about the safety of the pipeline. 

Will TransCanada respond to greivances raised about dents, faulty welding, pipeline material designated “junk” and other issues raised in the consumer advocacy group's November investigation? And what about September 10 and September 26 warning letters obtained by Public Citizen raising similar concerns from PHMSA to TransCanada?

Both TransCanada and PHMSA have provided DeSmogBlog answers to these questions.

Rebranded the “Gulf Coast Pipeline Project” by TransCanada, the 485-mile Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas Keystone XL southern half — approved via a March 2012 Executive Order from President Barack Obama — is set to open for business by mid- to late-January.

Tue, 2013-12-03 05:00Julie Dermansky
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"Just the Reality:" Pipeline Safety Official Admits He’d Avoid Buying A Home Near Pipelines Like Keystone XL

A federal pipeline safety official admitted on camera recently that he made a point of ensuring his home wasn’t in the path of any pipelines before buying it, and that he wouldn't advise anyone to build in the path of a pipeline. 

The official, Bill Lowry, is responsible for community assistance and technical services for the southwest region of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

At a Public Safety Trust conference on Nov. 21, Lowry was asked, “Knowing what you know about the problems in the Keystone XL's construction, what would you do if your house was in its path?”

His answer:  “Here is what I did when I bought my house — I looked on all the maps, I looked for all the well holes. I found there is nothing around me but dry holes and no pipelines. And it's not because I'm afraid of pipelines, it's not because I think something will happen. It's because something could happen. … You're always better off, if you have a choice….” 

He trailed off before finishing his sentence, but added that, “If I was building a house, I wouldn't build it on a refinery, … I wouldn't build it on a pipeline, because they're all industrial facilities. That's just the reality.”

Watch video of PHMSA’s Bill Lowry explaining what measures he took to keep his own family safe from pipelines, and the “reality” of pipeline risks:

Lowry's answer was not terribly reassuring to those along the Keystone XL route, inferring they should have done their due diligence before settling in,” said Ramsey Sprague, spokesperson for the Tar Sands Blockade. “Lowry expects the public to trust that regulators will keep them safe, although he himself doesn't trust it enough to buy property near a pipeline.”

Tue, 2013-11-12 08:02Steve Horn
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Public Citizen Report Reveals Dents, Holes in Keystone XL Southern Half Weeks Before Planned Startup

The southern half of Transcanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is supposed to begin pumping up to 700,000 barrels of diluted bitumen per day through the Cushing, OK to Port Arthur, TX route within weeks. But is it ready to operate safely?

Public Citizen has released a chilling report revealing that the 485-mile KXL southern line is plagued by dents, faulty welding, exterior damage that was patched up poorly and misshapen bends, among other troubling anomalies.

In conducting its investigative report, “Construction Problems Raise Questions About the Integrity of the Pipeline,” Public Citizen worked on the ground to examine 250 miles of the 485 mile pipeline's route. The group and its citizen sources uncovered over 125 anomalies in that half of the line alone. These findings moved Public Citizen to conclude the southern half of the pipeline shouldn't begin service until the anomalies are taken care of, and ponders if the issues can ever be resolved sufficiently.

After President Barack Obama temporarily denied a permit for Keystone XL's northern half in January 2012, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted Keystone XL's south half a legally dubious Nationwide Permit 12 to expedite construction. Soon after, President Obama issued his own Executive Order in March 2012 calling for the expedited building of the south half in de facto support of the Corps' permit. 

An August report by industry intelligence firm Genscape said the pipeline, rebranded by Transcanada as the “Gulf Coast Project,” will ship tar sands dilbit through the line beginning in the first quarter of 2014. Now, the race to build the south half literally looks like it could come with major costs and consequences.  

Fri, 2013-11-01 12:37Steve Horn
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Revealed: Never Before Seen Photos of Tesoro Fracked Oil Spill in North Dakota, Pipeline Restarted Today

A month after over 865,200 gallons of oil spilled from Tesoro Logistics' 6-inch pipeline near Tioga, North Dakota, the cause of the leak is still largely unknown to anyone but Tesoro. The pipeline resumed operations today.

Carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the controversial horizontal drilling method used to capture oil and gas found embedded in shale rock basins worldwide, the Bakken Shale pipeline spill on September 29 was the largest fracked oil spill in U.S. history. Oil spill experts say the spill may be even bigger than originally estimated. 

Yet few details of what caused the spill - and how to prevent it from happening again - have arisen in the month since it occurred. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) believes a lightning strike may have created the quarter inch hole in the pipeline, leading to the spill

PHMSA says it will carry out a rigorous investigation into the cause of the spill, but allowed the restart after Tesoro agreed to the agency's safety order mandating aerial monitoring of the pipeline over the next three days during the restart and then weekly for the next year, along with 20 other things.

The safety order also mandates Tesoro provide a documented updated within six months indicating how it enhanced its control room monitoring, instructs Tesoro to finish the final mechanical and metallurgical testing report of the failed pipe within 30 days and dictates that within “90 days complet[ion of] a root cause failure analysis for the Line that contains a detailed timeline of events.”

Documents obtained by Greenpeace USA under North Dakota's Open Records Statute show the oil has settled over 12 feet below the ground layer of the soil. The oil that settled on the surface was burned off.   

“At 10-12 feet below surface, there is a extensive clay layer that underlies the entire hill top,” Kris Roberts, Environmental Response Team Leader for the North Department of Health's Division of Water Quality, explained in an October 3 field report.

Mon, 2012-11-26 14:10Carol Linnitt
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New Enbridge Spill Near Chicago Continues Company's "Pattern of Failures"

Enbridge was forced to shut down one of its pipelines last week after 900 barrels of crude oil leaked at the Mokena tank farm near Chicago. The leak was discovered on Tuesday of last week although its cause remained undisclosed until this morning, when the Mokena fire department cited a hole in a 20-inch pipeline. 

The leak forced the shutdown of Enbridge's Line 14, a pipeline carrying 318,000 barrels of oil per day from Superior, Wisconsin to Mokena, Illinois. 

Enbridge spokesman Graham White told the Chicago Tribune Friday that the spilled 37,000 gallons of crude were “contained within the tank berm,” causing little environmental impact. The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is investigating the accident.

The Mokena spill is yet another incident in a long list of Enbridge operational failures that have severely weakened the company's public standing and professional reputation. 

Thu, 2011-07-07 13:38Carol Linnitt
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Federal Agency Captured By Gas and Pipeline Industry

The Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is responsible for overseeing, monitoring and maintaining 2.3 million miles of pipeline. A recent investigation conducted by Hearst Newspapers discovered that the federal agency is heavily influenced by the gas and pipeline industry which exercises a significant amount of control over the regulatory body’s decisions.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is working to limit industry influence in federal safety studies of the country’s onshore pipeline network. LaHood’s decision is directed against a 2002 Bush-era rule requiring the federal agency to receive at least half of its funding for safety research from outside sources. The Hearst investigation found that, since the ruling, the PHMSA’s research is largely managed according to industry interests.

The investigation revealed that out of 174 safety studies conducted in the last decade by the federal PHMSA, two-thirds were funded by pipeline operators or other industry-controlled groups. Of the total studies, 89 were funded by a combination of 5 industry organizations that provide research and 3 that provide lobbying expertise.

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