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As more and more oil and gas ends up extracted and then traversing the U.S. via pipelines, safety is becoming a more important question these days.

Along those lines, Congress is being asked by the Administration to approve a pilot program that would exempt gas and oil pipelines from national safety rules if they employed approaches that were equally effective.

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The pilot program is part of a draft bill to reauthorize the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) through 2023. The bill would also reduce the threshold for pipelines to report damage from accidents, require local gas utilities to install backup systems to avoid over-pressurization incidents, and subject pipeline protesters to up to 20 years in prison.

“This proposal renews our commitment to pipeline safety by encouraging innovation and greater stakeholder collaboration,” said Skip Elliott, PHMSA administrator.

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The administration Monday sent its draft reauthorization bill to Congress, which has already been scrutinizing the agency for years of delay in finishing safety regulations mandated years ago for oil and gas pipelines. Congressional committees could use the bill as the starting point for their own legislation, or ignore it and write their own legislative language.

The pilot program would give PHMSA the ability to approve pilot programs so it could review “innovative technologies or approaches” to safety in oil and gas pipelines. Those programs could include exemptions from existing safety regulations, so long as they achieved an equivalent level of safety and any new pilot programs were made available for public comment.

The draft bill would also increase the reporting threshold for property damage caused by pipeline failure to $100,000 per incident. The administration says the existing $50,000 reporting threshold has not been adjusted for inflation for years.

The bill would newly subject a person who tampers with, vandalizes or disrupts an interstate oil and natural pipelines, including a pipeline under construction, to up to 20 years in prison. That represents a sweeping change to existing law, which reserves that penalty to those who damage or destroy an operating pipelines.

The bill seeks to prevent local gas utility over-pressurization incidents such as the one that occurred last year in the Merrimack Valley. It would require utilities to install secondary systems on low-pressure lines to prevent excessive pressure that could lead to an explosion within one year of the enactment of the bill.

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