Safety of pipelines continues to be of paramount importance as pipeline spills caused by flooding and riverbed erosion dumped 2.4 million gallons of crude oil and other hazardous liquids into U.S. waterways over the past two decades, said a new report from federal regulators.
The impetus for this new Department of Transportation report came from the 2011 spill into Montana’s Yellowstone River. The spill highlighted concerns about federal pipeline rules that require lines to be just 4 feet below riverbeds, which seems just a small amount to cover the lines and can quickly wash away floodwaters. The Associated Press obtained an advanced copy of the report.
Regulators found flood-related pipeline spills since 1993 in California, Texas, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Kentucky. Of the 2.4 million gallons of oil, gasoline, propane and other hazardous liquids released, less than 300,000 gallons ended up recovered.
Although those accidents account for less than 1 percent of the total number of pipeline accidents, the consequences of a release in water can be much more severe because of the threats to drinking water supplies and the heightened potential for environmental damage.
The 16 spills cost companies almost $200 million combined in property damages, lost product, cleanup work and other expenses.
The most recent accidents came during flooding in 2011 throughout the Missouri River Basin.
Those include the Yellowstone River spill that saw a severed Exxon Mobil Corp. pipeline release 63,000 gallons. A NuStar Energy LP pipeline also spilled 4,200 gallons of anhydrous ammonia into the Missouri River in Nebraska, and an Enterprise Products Partners LP pipeline released 28,350 gallons of gasoline into the Missouri River in Iowa.
Exxon’s 2011 spill into the Yellowstone cost the company an estimated $135 million.
U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, who requested the report with fellow Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, said the results reveal “some pretty clear holes in pipeline oversight when it comes to flooding.”
But Baucus said the report leaves unanswered basic questions about what steps to prevent future accidents.
Transportation Department officials will next evaluate whether pipeline crossing rules such as the 4-foot depth requirement are sufficient, said Jeannie Layson, communications director for the agency’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
The agency must deliver another report to Congress within the next year to update lawmakers on its plans.
Pipeline companies must inspect crossings under navigable waterways at least once every five years.