APNewsBreak: Floods blamed for 16 pipeline spills

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 3, 2013 at 6:10 pm •  Published: January 3, 2013
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But Baucus said the report leaves unanswered basic questions about what steps can be taken to prevent future accidents.

Transportation Department officials will next evaluate whether pipeline crossing rules such as the 4-foot depth requirement are sufficient, said Jeannie Layson, communications director for the agency's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

The agency must deliver another report to Congress within the next year to update lawmakers on its plans.

Pipeline companies are required to inspect crossings under navigable waterways at least once every five years.

An industry representative cautioned against imposing stringent new regulations. Those could force companies to divert money from other safety initiatives such as reducing accidents caused by corrosion or excavation damage, said John Stoody, of the Association of Oil Pipe Lines.

The water crossings report showed riverbed scouring around pipelines caused by flooding "is a real but rare occurrence," Stoody said.

"It's our hope the focus remains on efforts that will provide the most public safety and protection for the environment," he said, adding that companies spent at least $1.1 billion on evaluations, inspections and maintenance geared toward safety in 2011.

In recent years, some pipeline companies have voluntarily buried their lines deeper than federal rules require. Using a technique called horizontal directional drilling, pipelines can be installed dozens of feet beneath riverbeds, minimizing the chances they could be exposed to damaging floodwaters and debris.

The technique can cost millions of dollars for a single water crossing. That can save money in the long run: Exxon's 2011 spill into the Yellowstone cost the company an estimated $135 million.

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