Thursday, September 1, 2011

NTSB Highlights Rising Pipeline Fatal Accidents

Yesterday, the National Transportation Safety Board issued its report on the natural-gas pipeline explosion that killed 8 in San Bruno, California on September 9, 2010.  The NTSB stated that the accident was caused by defective materials and welding when the line was built...back in 1956.  It further found that the owner of the line, the utility PG&E, had not inspected the line appropriately and that state regulators had failed to provide strong oversight.

In sum, this is a case of infrastructure failure caused by shoddy, original work, poor maintenance and inspection, aging pipe, and lax regulation.

Fatal accidents at large pipelines are rising, with 9 deaths in 2008, 13 in 2009, and 22 in 2010, according to the NTSB. This trend must be reversed and that means more investment in replacing old lines, more investment in testing and maintaining lines, and stronger regulatory oversight.  This trend is also another data point documenting the enormous under-investment in all kinds of infrastructure in America.


  1. This is one of the things that concerns me about rapidly expanding shale production. All these wells will need pipelines. If industry continues to fail at up keep with what is already there, how can the public trust industry to maintain infrastructure for 100s of thousands of new wells?
    It's not the public or regulator's responsibility to ensure proper up keep in my mind; it's the industry's.

    I recently spoke to someone at Samson Oil and Gas who insisted that Macondo was just as much the government's fault as it was BP. In my opinion, that is simply false. It's ultimately the industry's responsibility to act safely; the public can't do their job for them.

  2. I agree that the buck stops with the companies. They must have a culture of safety.

    But I also believe strongly in the role of regulations. Self-regulation rarely if ever works. Regulators must be professional and independent of everyone--regulated companies, environmentalists, all interests.

    In the case of the BP blowout, the culture of safety had gaping holes in it. And the federal regulators were neither professional nor independent of the companies. In some cases, companies take steps to win influence with regulators that ends up eroding the vital independence so you get a PG&E pipeline that was in the ground for 50 plus years and never properly inspected.