Federal Legislation Drafted in Response to Merrimack Valley, MA Gas Pipeline Explosions

Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Lori Trahan of Massachusetts will introduce federal legislation to increase gas pipeline safety, in response to an incident that caused explosions and fires in the Merrimack Valley last fall. (View bill S. 1097)

Proposed changes to U.S.C. Title 49 would mandate updates to the pipeline safety rules to:

  • include risk evaluation in distribution integrity management programs (DIMP) and written communication procedures in emergency response plans;
  • update PHMSA’s annual State Programs Evaluation to ensure that states have adequate resources to review plans and perform inspections;
  • require written O&M procedures for responding to overpressure alarms and the management of change process;
  • require that every distribution pipeline operator develop and implement a pipeline safety management framework
  • include new rules for recordkeeping requirements for distribution operators;
  • require that covered tasks are first approved by a professional engineer and that qualified employees monitor gas pressure while they are being performed;
  • require upgrades to district regulator stations.

The bill also includes significantly stiffer penalties for safety violations. Currently, the U.S. Department of Transportation can fine a company $200,000 per day, up to a total of $2 million; Markey and Trahan propose raising those penalties to $20 million and $200 million, respectively.

The bill is named in honor of Leonel Rondon, the Lawrence, Massachusetts teen who died in the September disaster involving a Columbia Gas pipeline.


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