US Lawmakers Work to Renew Federal Pipeline Safety Law

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones Newswires), Jan. 10, 2011

U.S. lawmakers are looking to renew a pipeline safety law that expired last year as Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. works to restore service to the 800-mile Trans Alaska Pipeline System following the discovery of a leak.

Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D., W.Va.) and Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) plan to introduce a bill "early" in this congressional session to reauthorize the pipeline safety law, a Senate aide said.

Rockefeller chairs the Senate transportation committee while Lautenberg heads up the infrastructure subcommittee.

In the House of Representatives, meanwhile, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Rep. John Mica (R., Fla.) is looking to hold hearings on the issue.

"We are looking at scheduling hearings on this because the programs do need to be authorized," committee spokesman Justin Harclerode said. "That is something that will be on our agenda."

Alyeska officials closed the Trans Alaska Pipeline over the weekend after workers discovered a leak, forcing BP, Exxon Mobil and other oil producers to shut down output on Alaska's North Slope.

The pipeline is expected to be up and running before the end of the week.

The U.S. Transportation Department has dispatched at least two inspectors to evaluate the situation and "is working with Alyeska to ensure the company's plan to restart the line is done so in the safest way possible," a spokesman for the department said.

Senate and House members had been working to renew the pipeline law before the leak in Alaska. Congress held hearings on safety reform last year, following several high-profile disasters, including the explosion in San Bruno, Calif. But it did not pass a new law.

The 2006 Pipeline Inspection Protection Enforcement and Safety Act expired in October.

The Obama administration has asked Congress to impose tighter safety standards. In September, the Transportation Department asked Congress to increase fines for serious violations from $1 million to $2.5 million, and to authorize additional inspection and enforcement officials.

The expiration of the law has not impacted existing safety standards, said Association of Oil Pipe Lines President Andrew Black.

"I've not heard anything about this incident to suggest a gap has been identified [in the law]," Black said.

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