LITTLE ROCK — Amid a broad discussion about the pipeline industry and safety measures, former acting administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration Brigham McCown said he has been told the Pegasus Pipeline would not be restarted until it has been deemed safe.
“I can tell you that as a former pipeline regulator who served as the first head of the agency ... this line is not going to be restarted until the federal government is fully satisfied that it’s safe,” McCown said at a program at the Clinton School of Public Service.
McCown recognized pipelines have been in the news with discussions concerning Keystone XL proposal on a national front and the Pegasus Pipeline in Arkansas.
“As a nation, I think our conversation must recognize ... the importance that energy does play on our daily lives,” he said. “Energy is a necessity, not a luxury.”
PHMSA is responsible for the safety of one million daily shipments of hazardous goods throughout the country. The material is moved by air, rail, sea, land and pipeline.
McCown said PHMSA relies on facts, science and data to make decisions. According to McCown, some of those facts are that pipelines “move the lifeblood of the economy,” pipelines are 530 percent safer than rail and they are also 5,300 times safer than trucks.
The current spill count in Mayflower is at 5,000 barrels, but McCown said he is glad progress has been made and many people have been cleared to go back home.
Looking forward, McCown said it may take time to go through all the data and figure out how to prevent a similar spill from happening in the future.
“I believe it’s important, therefore, not to rush to judgement,” he said. “The investigation process is comprehensive and deliberative and deliberatively slow in order to arrive at a true root cause analysis.”
Although authorities know the line experienced an “upset triggered by a seam crack,” McCown said the root cause of that crack is still unknown. He also cautioned against “non-experts’ analyses on this complex issue.”
Nationally, the Keystone XL project has spurred pipeline conversations. Some say more pipelines means more opportunity for incidents like the Mayflower spill to occur. McCown said the Keystone XL pipeline will be under the same safety standards but will be made better.
“The pipelines that were made back in, say, the 1950s, they used a different type pipe than what’s used today,” he said. “The protective coatings around the pipe are different. The depth at which the pipe is buried is different. But, all pipelines — regardless of their age — are required to be held to the same set of standards.”
McCown said the people building Keystone XL have agreed to hold themselves to standards above and beyond the norm, including moving valves closer together and automated their safety valves to be able to stop or slow the flow in case of an emergency.
Overall, McCown said it is important for all stakeholders to work together to make sure pipelines remain safe and efficient so the safety record can continue to improve.
“It’s my opinion — as a former regulator who spent the bulk of my career in pursuit of the safest means of transporting products on which our economy runs — the data, the facts, the science clearly point to the continuing preponderance that pipelines remain our safest form of transportation,” he said. “I firmly believe our energy transportation system is safe.”
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