In the wake of the San Bruno natural gas blast, the House Committee on Energy & Commerce, Subcommittee on Energy & Environment reviewed existing and planned pipeline safety September 23. The primary federal agency charged with investigating the San Bruno explosion is in the “early stages” of investigation, Chris Hart, National Transportation Safety Board vice chair, noted. That investigation includes not just the pipeline owner, Pacific Gas & Electric, but the California Public Utilities Commission too. “State regulators have a role in overseeing the integrity of the pipeline system. The NTSB will evaluate the oversight exercised,” Hart added. Cynthia Quaterman, Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration administrator, explained the technology used to review safety includes having pipeline operators inspect the lines using “smart” pigs. The pig is a device that looks like a Roto-Rooter in multiple segments. It is sent into a line at one point and pulled out at another. The San Bruno segment of the pipe was inspected by a pig “multiple times within the last few years,” PG&E told the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, according to association president Don Santa’s testimony. The committee also noted proposed pipeline safety legislation. Last week, on September 15, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood presented to Congress the Obama Administration’s legislative proposal for reauthorization of the Pipeline Safety Statute. The proposed legislation, with Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) sponsoring it, is called the “Strengthening Pipeline Safety and Safety Enforcement Act of 2010.” Its provisions include: – Increasing the maximum administrative civil penalties for serious violations from $100,000 per day (and $1 million per related series of violations) to $250,000 per day (and $2.5 million per related series of violations); – Expanding the definition of “High Consequence” areas, like that deemed for San Bruno, to include not only population density but also the age and seismic vulnerability of pipelines; – Issuing regulations requiring automatic gas shutoffs by remote control within18 months after the bill is passed; – Adding 40 full-time equivalent investigation staff to the Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration over four years; – Authorizing expanded collection of data on pipeline infrastructure; and – Requiring a review of the effectiveness of current rules that apply pipeline integrity management requirements to pipelines in high consequence areas to determine whether such requirements should be expanded and, in the case of natural gas pipelines, whether such expanded application would mitigate the need for location-based requirements.