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Watchdog Report Finds Pipeline Regulators Spent More Time With Business Than On Oil Spills

methanol extraction towerWASHINGTON — The Transportation Department workplace charged with overseeing the 2.6 million miles of pipelines within the United States is spending extra time at oil and fuel industry conferences than it is addressing spills and other incidents, a watchdog group contends in a new report.

Between 2007 and 2012, employees from the Pipeline and Hazardous Supplies Safety Administration spent 2,807 days at conferences, meetings and other occasions sponsored by the oil, gasoline and pipeline industries, based on the report from Public Workers for Environmental Duty (PEER). That is almost three times as many as the 970 days the staffers spent responding to spills, explosions and different significant incidents on the pipelines they regulate. PEER drew the figures from company records acquired in response to a Freedom of knowledge Act request. (PEER’s report calculates “days” as workers days, i.e. the entire number of days per staffer spent at a convention or in the sphere. So if five staffers all attended one convention together, that is considered 5 employees days but only one calendar day.)

In keeping with information that PEER supplied to The Huffington Publish, the pipeline company spent $245,938 on journey to industry meetings and occasions sponsored by groups just like the American Petroleum Institute and the American Gasoline Association in these six years. But it surely spent only $171,801 responding to important spills, explosions and breakdowns on pipelines that transport oil, gasoline and different hazardous supplies during the same period.

PEER also found that company representatives attended 850 meetings and other occasions with industry in that interval, however staffers were sent to research solely 159 significant spills, explosions and breakdowns. A previous release from the watchdog group, also based mostly on FOIA info obtained from the agency, found there have been more than 300 spills, explosions and different incidents since 2006 that the company didn’t dispatch inspectors to analyze. PEER found that since 2006, the federal company and its state companions had inspected lower crude oil refining than one-fifth of the 2.6 million miles of pipeline.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration responded that PEER’s figures “are incomplete” because they only embody journey time for investigations. On extra complicated investigations, agency engineers and technical specialists “spend many weeks analyzing knowledge and figuring out how company actions contributed to an incident,” the company mentioned. It also said that the figures don’t embody time that staffers spend in the sector doing different regulatory and oversight activities, nor do they include the time that state inspectors, whose work the agency funds, spend on investigations.

“Pipeline security is our high precedence,” said Jeannie Shiffer, director of communications, congressional and worldwide affairs at the agency, in an e-mail to The Huffington Submit. “In 2012, pipeline security personnel spent eighty percent of their time conducting security associated activities including inspections and incident investigations on the bottom, within the lab, and on the workplace, in addition to enforcement and public outreach. Any examine that purports in any other case is misunderstanding the info and the nature of these extremely skilled engineers’ jobs.”

PEER argues that the most recent records show that the pipeline regulators aren’t prioritizing their finances appropriately. “I think everyone knows that [the agency] is pretty much more catering toward the trade and is doing what they need as opposed to protecting people’ well being and safety,” mentioned Kit Douglass, staff counsel at PEER. “I feel that’s pretty properly-recognized — possibly this simply places a finer level on that.”

The agency’s potential to successfully regulate the hundreds of thousands of miles of U.S. pipeline has been the topic of an excellent deal of attention previously few years, particularly after the Mayflower, Ark. oil spill earlier this year, the explosion of the San Bruno gas pipeline in California in 2010, and the Enbridge spill in Kalamazoo, Mich. additionally in 2010. In January 2012, President Barack Obama signed a new legislation that gave the company further regulatory authority and doubled the sum of money it may well effective pipeline operators for security violations. The agency says it has 135 federal inspection and enforcement workers, the utmost allowed beneath the updated legislation.

Jeffrey Wiese, the company’s affiliate administrator for pipeline security, mentioned at a conference in July that regulators nonetheless have “very few tools to work with” in relation to enforcing safety rules. In keeping with a report from InsideClimate Information, Wiese told the attendees that writing new rules is going to take a number of years and that in the meantime, the agency “is making a YouTube channel to steer the business to voluntarily enhance its security operations.”

As InsideClimate additionally noted, the Obama administration has asked for more money for pipeline and hazardous materials security in its budget requests, though the continuing spending debates in Washington have led as a substitute to price range cuts for the company’s work. But PEER argues that the issue goes beyond questions of extra funding. The group says its new report shows that the company is just not spending the cash it does have on the kind of regulatory and enforcement work crude oil refining it ought to.

“They’re doing investigations, simply not as much as they’re spending time hobnobbing with trade,” mentioned Douglass.

The agency notes that its monitor document has improved in recent times, declaring that vital pipeline incidents have decreased 12.5 percent since 2008.

Update: Oct. 23 — In response to PEER’s report, PHMSA offered additional knowledge to HuffPost on how pipeline security personnel spend their time.

The company said that in 2012, it performed 1,163 inspections, with security personnel in the regional workplaces working a total of 16,043 days: 8,515 days in the office and 7,528 days out of the office. About 38 % of their time is spent on inspection of pipeline items, 20 percent is spent on operator-degree inspections and 17 percent on stakeholder outreach, the agency stated.