The safety over our nation’s underground pipeline systems have presented issues regarding public health for several decades. Although some safety concerns were recently addressed with the enactment of the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 (Pipeline Safety Act), which President Obama signed in 2012, some say that it was lacking in adequacy or sufficiency. The Pipeline Safety Act promulgated regulations concerning remote shut off capabilities, excavation notification, record verification, and maximum operating pressure reporting requirements.

Safety concerns concerning gas pipeline systems continue to present numerous issues, as is evidenced by the presence of an immense amount of past and present litigation resulting from gas pipeline incidents. As stated by specialist in energy and infrastructure policy, Paul. W. Parfomak, in his 2013 Congressional Research Service report, entitled, Keeping America’s Pipelines Safe and Secure: Key Issues for Congress:

“While an efficient and fundamentally safe means of transport, many pipelines carry materials with the potential to cause public injury and environmental damage. The nation’s pipeline networks are also widespread and vulnerable to accidents and terrorist attack. Recent pipeline accidents in Marshall, MI, San Bruno, CA, Allentown, PA, and Laurel, MT, have heightened congressional concern about pipeline risks and drawn criticism from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).”

As pipeline accidents continue to occur, so does public awareness, subsequent controversy, and resultant litigation. As stated in January 2013 Publication in Forbes Magazine, commenting on the December 2013 pipeline explosion in West Virginia, entitled, Pipeline Explosion Rattles Natural Gas Industry:

“At present, 2.5 million miles of existing natural gas pipelines exist in the United States, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Half of that was installed prior to 1970, meaning that the standards by which they have been built are not as strict as the more recently constructed lines. With the share of natural gas used to fuel power plants expected to keep rising, gas producers are saying that between 29,000 and 62,000 miles of new pipeline is needed over the next 25 years.”

With more pipeline certain to be constructed in the coming years, the potential risk for a commensurate amount of incidents as a result of such new construction, unfortunately appears imminent. A current bill under consideration, introduced by Kansas Senator Roberts on April 18, 2013, endeavors to address a portion of the multitude of safety concerns.  The bill, entitled `Underground Gas Storage Facility Safety Act of 2013,’ as proposed:

“Revises federal pipeline safety requirements to authorize states to enforce state requirements for the safe construction and operation of underground gas storage wellbores and underground hazardous liquid storage wellbores if: (1) the requirement has been approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), or (2) FERC fails to approve such requirement within 30 days after its submission.” Source: Library of Congress, available at:|/home/LegislativeData.php|

Although the current bill under consideration is certainly promising for public safety advocates, and amongst other special interest groups, as well as residents throughout the nation, the unfortunate truth is that most bills do not get passed. Further, it is very difficult to determine the possible results for bills at such preliminary stages. Amongst all the controversy, one thing is certain, however—litigated matters extending from pipeline incidents will continue to occupy our U.S. court systems. The complexities of such matters, coupled with the financial stakes, and the potential for landmark decisions, have consequently resulted in a variety of niche fields of expertise pertaining to gas pipeline incidents. Specific niche fields of pipeline experts, such as pipe manufacturing experts, pipe construction experts, and corrosion experts witness are expected to diversify in the presence of public awareness, whether or not the current bill is passed, thereby remaining an indispensable component in actions involving pipeline incidents.

By: Alicia McKnight, J.D.