Federal Safety Agency Plays Pipeline Rupture Roulette
Only a small fraction of America’s vast network of natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines has undergone any sort of inspection in recent years, including several hundred pipelines which have spilled or broken down, according to federal records displayed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, the safety and reliability of much of this key but volatile transport grid remains unknown.
Records obtained from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act reveal the following:
- Of the more than 2.6 million oil, natural gas and propane pipeline miles regulated by PHMSA less than a fifth (583,692) has been inspected by federal or state officials since 2006.
- Another 132,300 miles has been inspected by their operators during that same period but PHMSA cannot say whether any industry inspections have been independently reviewed.
- Since 2006, there have been more than 300 incidents, such as a spill, explosion or breakdown, which triggered no follow-up inspection.
Despite these figures, PHMSA’s latest annual report on Nov. 30, 2012, to Congress on inspection and enforcement needs is less than one page long and mentions no need or even desire to increase inspections.
“At the current rate, most of our oil and gas pipeline network will not be inspected in this generation,” stated PEER Counsel Kathryn Douglass, noting that the present rate of less than one thousand federal and state inspections each year offers no hope of keeping pace. “Inspections are supposed to prevent damaging incidents but the main way pipeline deficiencies now become manifest is when ruptures or explosions make them obvious. This approach to pipeline safety is like searching for gas leaks with a lit candle.”
Nor is it clear that the causes of pipeline breakdowns are effectively remedied even after major spills or blasts occur. In the period since 2006, PHMSA recorded 3,599 incidents, defined as a release resulting in injury or death or major property losses, but took only 1,526 enforcement actions during the same period. Similarly, months following major pipeline disasters, PHMSA has yet to implement the vast majority of corrective measures recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board.
“PHMSA is a sleepy, industry-dominated agency that tries to remain obscure by doing as little as possible,” Douglass added. “Its minimalist approach to pipeline regulation means several eco-catastrophes a year is business as usual.”
Approval of the Keystone XL, another massive pipeline project to transport tar sands from Canada to Texas, would put more pressure on PHMSA to perform. Many fear that spills from that pipeline, if approved, would create even bigger environmental headaches.
Toxins in water produced by cyanobacteria was likely responsible for more than 300 elephant deaths in Botswana this year, the country's wildlife department announced on Monday.
How Did Cyanobacteria Poison the Elephants?<p>Cyanobacteria are microscopic organisms common in water and sometimes found in soil. Some cyanobacteria produce neurotoxins.</p><p>The cyanobacteria "was growing in pans" or watering holes, the principal veterinary officer of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Mmadi Reuben, told reporters.</p><p>Reuben said the deaths had "stopped towards the end of June 2020, coinciding with the drying of pans."</p><p>"However we have many questions still to be answered such as why the elephants only and why that area only? We have a number of hypotheses we are investigating," added Reuben.</p><p>Similar elephant deaths have also been recorded in neighboring Zimbabwe.</p>
Climate Change to Blame?<p>Not all cyanobacteria are toxic but scientists say varieties dangerous to humans and animals are occurring more frequently as climate change drives up global temperatures.</p><p>Southern Africa's temperatures are rising at twice the global average, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.</p>
Elephant Paradise?<p>Africa's overall elephant population is declining due to poaching. But Botswana, home to almost a third of the continent's elephants, has seen numbers grow to around 130,000.</p><p>Botswana's government said it was continuing studies into the occurrence of the deadly bacteria. In the winter, elephants hydrate themselves mainly by eating roots and bark, especially of the baobab tree.</p>
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