Liz McCormick Published

Bill to Strengthen Pipeline Safety Moves in the House

Delegates John McCuskey and Woody Ireland

In the House chamber Tuesday, Delegates approved an amendment to a pipeline safety bill proposed on behalf of the governor.

House Bill 4323 was on second reading in the House, also known as the amendment phase. The bill requires pipeline operators to report an accident or emergency at their facility to the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management within 15 minutes or face a fine of up to $50,000.

Delegates considered one change on the House floor. House Energy Chairman Woody Ireland proposed the amendment to the full chamber. His change adjusts the definition of a pipeline facility, exempting pipelines that are 4 inches in diameter or less and service a farm or residence.

“The reason for that was to try to get the thing to really address issues that were high risk and really did impact folks’ safety,” Ireland said, “Now, the governor’s bill as it was proposed talked about all pipelines, and this was just a clarification of what a pipeline facility really meant.”

Ireland agrees that pipelines serving the oil and gas industry should be held to the reporting requirements, but small pipelines on personal property should not face such steep penalties. The fines for the failure to report an accident within 15 minutes range from $2,500 to $50,000.

Ireland’s amendment was passed unanimously by members in the House.

Some citizens interested in the bill, however, have voiced concerns over the $50,000 penalty, suggesting it’s actually too small and pipeline operators will be able to pay off any emergency incident easily.

Ireland disagrees.

“That’s a pretty stiff penalty, and it’s consistent with the other penalties that DEP have leveled on other commercial enterprises such as chemical industry and so forth. So $50,000 is pretty stiff, and it’s not something people are going to take lightly,” he said.

Ireland says the industry is also struggling financially because of the decline in natural gas prices and the penalty will be more than enough of an incentive to report the incident.

House Bill 4323 will be up for a final vote in the House chamber Wednesday.