The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW

Homeland Security

The Testimony of
The Honorable John McCain
Chairman of the Committee and Commerce, Science and Transportation, U.S. Senator (R-AZ)

Good Morning. I am pleased to call to order this field hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

. Today, we meet to consider issues related to pipeline safety, specifically, the Kinder Morgan pipeline rupture and its impact on public safety, fuel supply, and gasoline prices.

. During the past several years, I have chaired a number of hearings on pipeline safety. Last December, after three long years of debate, Congress passed legislation to reauthorize and strengthen federal pipeline safety programs. While pipelines have historically been the safest way to transport fuel, serious and often preventable pipeline accidents with devastating consequences make clear that more still needs to be done to make them safer. The law enacted last year imposed many new mandates intended to improve pipeline safety, and required every pipeline operator to develop comprehensive integrity management plans, imposed mandatory inspections requirements, required operators to help educate the public about pipeline safety, and established whistle blower protections for pipeline employees. Enacting laws, however, is not in and of itself a solution to pipeline safety problems. Strong, swift, and consistent enforcement is also essential.

. It is unfortunate but true that it often takes a crisis to focus public interest on an issue. While the Kinder Morgan rupture thankfully did not result in any deaths or personal injuries, its economic consequences, compounded by many factors including an understandable public run on gas stations and alleged price gouging, were dramatic. The rupture and subsequent shutdown of the pipeline for 16 days affected millions of Arizonan residents and businesses, some of whom, if they could find a station with fuel and had hours to spare waiting in line, paid over $4.00 for a gallon of gasoline.

. The Kinder Morgan rupture has been a wake-up call for many-including Kinder Morgan. The company's pipelines that run through Arizona are nearly 50 years old, and its line from El Paso supplies about one-third of Phoenix's gasoline. The rupture has raised serious questions about the condition of Kinder Morgan's pipelines, our state's dependence on that company to transport fuel, the adequacy of safety regulations and their enforcement by federal and state agencies, and the extent to which these agencies do or do not work together.

. Why, for example, did it take the Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) nearly a year to issue a Compliance Action Order after receiving information from Kinder Morgan about serious external corrosion on its 6-inch jet fuel pipeline? Why, despite frequent inspections of Kinder Morgan's pipelines by the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) and the identification of various "items of noncompliance", does there seem to have been little or no follow-up and enforcement by OPS? Why is it that OPS's orders following the July 30 rupture imposed less stringent requirements on Kinder Morgan than the company ultimately took itself? And, why did it take a rupture and loss of 10,000 gallons of fuel for Kinder Morgan to inspect and replace the pipeline instead of having taken action to identify the risks associated with its aging pipeline before an accident occurred?

. The questions that have arisen from this incident suggest a delayed, lax, or worse - nonexistent - oversight and enforcement by OPS, and a company that reacts to safety problems after they occur instead of taking action to prevent them. I hope that at today's hearing we will get answers to these questions that either correct this impression of real problems within both the private and public sectors, or answers that inform us about what more needs to be done to ensure that an accident of this sort and consequence does not happen again.

. Much of our nation's energy infrastructure was built years ago, in remote areas, away from our population centers. The fact that the Kinder Morgan rupture occurred in a housing development provides a good example of how the population centers have shifted, and highlights the problem of encroachment on pipeline rights-of-way. Clearly, we must ensure that local planning and zoning laws take into account public safety and the need for such rights-of-way.

. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses, getting their accounts of what went wrong and who was responsible, and receiving their recommendations on what more can be done to further strengthen pipeline safety and enforcement.

Join the mailing list

One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias