Pipeline safety remains high priority

January 1, 2002 By    

The Office of Pipeline Safety had scheduled its regional directors meeting for Sept. 11 in Colorado. News of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C. that morning changed the agenda in the middle of the meeting.

“We immediately began to communicate with all the (pipeline) operators,” OPS Associate Administrator Gerard related in an interview. “Our concern was assessing companies’ ability to respond and what security protections they had in place. We didn’t know at that point what could happen next. We talked to all major operators to make sure they had appropriate protections in place. We looked at the Department of Transportation to see what protections it had in place.”

Within a week, OPS had produced a still-classified report.

“We could get information out and bring information back to the department to see how people were responding,” Gerard recalled. “Problems began to arise with barricades in parts of the country. Operators had concerns….We began to communicate more with other parts of the government.”

OPS started working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Energy to synchronize levels of awareness.

It also had to intervene in the wake of the terrorist attacks when other governments’ efforts to promote public safety inadvertently increased hazmat dangers. When the Federal Aviation Administration grounded, then restricted air travel, pipeline operators couldn’t perform some or all fly-over inspections.

“We had to bring that to the attention of the Federal Aviation Administration to get restrictions lifted. It took about 10 days,” Gerard said. Additionally police barricades in the New York area blocked the flow of fuel and inspections before OPS intervened.

OPS decided to create a task force to explore ways to protect pipelines from becoming a weapon against the United States. Corporations are contributing personnel to evaluate risk and see what response is needed.

It will consider how to improve communications and try to determine which facilities need higher levels of protection. “We will do additional vulnerability assessments with DOE to determine what other types of practices are needed,” Gerard said.

OPS also opened a 24-hour crisis management center right at DOT’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., to manage any pipeline emergencies. The center will help keep in contact with hazmat carriers and emergency response teams.

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