New safety measures for the sprawling network of fuel pipelines crisscrossing the United States are becoming less stringent after oil industry officials complained proposed changes would cost companies billions of dollars.
The long-delayed regulations cover almost 200,000 miles of pipelines that transport oil, gasoline and other hazardous liquids. They will be subject to review by Congress and the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump, who on the campaign trail was highly critical of regulations that hinder energy development.
If the changes stand, then pipeline companies will conduct more rigorous inspections of lines in rural areas and install leak-detection systems that are meant to speed up emergency response times when accidents occur.
An earlier Obama administration proposal for companies to immediately repair cracks and other problems in their lines ended up dropped, drawing criticism from safety advocates.
Documents show the pipeline repair criteria ended up altered, giving companies more flexibility on when to do the work, after a Dec. 12 meeting of officials from the Transportation Department and the White House with representatives of the oil industry.
The American Petroleum Institute (API) complained the administration’s original proposal for repairs, unveiled in late 2015, was too stringent and would cost companies almost $3 billion over the next decade. The industry group argued the high price tag outweighed any benefits from accidents averted.
Thousands of pipeline accidents over the past decade, including one in Mayflower in March 2013, caused $2.5 billion in damage nationwide and dumped almost 38 million gallons of fuel.
The new regulations go into effect in roughly six months, meaning the Trump administration could seek to block or modify them. Trump’s transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Transportation Department spokesman Allie Aguilera said the government and industry were “on the same page on safety,” suggesting there would be no need to overturn the rule.
API issued a statement saying the rule was an improvement over the original proposal but retained provisions that would force companies to divert attention from areas of highest risk.
Previous industry regulations applied primarily to pipelines in high consequence areas with large populations or environmentally sensitive features such as drinking water supplies.