U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) made the following statement today during the Commerce Committee's Oversight Hearing on Pipeline Safety. Cantwell is a member of the Commerce Committee. Last week marked the five-year anniversary of the pipeline explosion in Bellingham, Washington.
Thank you Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for holding this hearing and for your personal leadership on the importance of pipeline safety.
Nearly half a million miles of oil and gas transmission pipelines crisscross the United States.
In my state alone, the Olympic pipeline system moves 12 million gallons of gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel through western Washington every day—from refineries at Cherry Point, north of Bellingham, and March Point, near Anacortes, to as far south as Portland, Oregon.
Also, Washington depends on the Williams Northwest Pipeline, which supplies 80 percent of Washington's gas, primarily from Canada and the Rocky Mountains.
These pipelines and others like them comprise a crucial energy backbone of our country—providing the fuel and energy necessary for major production plants and factories, military installations and airports, and power generation facilities that keep our country moving.
When there is a disruption, there are serious consequences for our infrastructure.
Just last month, for example, the Olympic Pipeline leaked thousands of gallons of fuel and caused an intense fire in Renton, Washington —shooting flames twenty feet in the air.
The Pipeline was shut for three days and created a jet-fuel crisis at Sea-Tac International Airport, which relies on the Olympic Pipeline as its sole supplier —in fact, the airport was just days away from having to close.
More important, however, these pipelines run through many of our state's urban areas —through, under and near parks, schools and major population centers —and accidents can be extremely hazardous and even deadly.
My state knows first-hand the tragedy of pipeline accidents.
Just last week, we recognized the tragic fifth anniversary of the Olympic Pipeline explosion near Bellingham.
This disastrous rupture spilled 237,000 gallons of gasoline and exploded into a fireball that killed two ten year-olds, Stephen Tsiorvas and Wade King, and Liam Wood, an 18 year-old who was out fishing.
These kids were simply playing in a park and fishing in a river —when a threat that few people in the city even knew existed killed them.
I want to re-state that fact: few people in the city even knew that this pipeline ran through their city.
In fact, these pipelines run through our cities and neighborhoods and often they are buried underground without any knowledge of those living above them.
Ensuring the safety of these lines must be a principal priority, which is why I supported the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 as a good step towards increased pipeline safety.
This legislation that was introduced under our chairman's leadership gives the Secretary of Transportation greater authority to take swift action in ensuring the safety of our pipeline system.
Specifically, the legislation included increased inspections, an expanded public right to know about pipeline hazards, environmental reviews intended to enable more timely pipeline repairs, and increased state oversight of safety activities.
I was particularly pleased that the legislation added a mandatory inspection requirement. However, I must say that I remain disappointed that the final conference report did not
include the Senate's requirement for testing every five years that was included as a
Murray-Cantwell amendment in the Senate bill.
Instead, the law requires pipeline inspections over all lines once in the next ten years and every seven years thereafter. Physical testing is really the only way that we know the vulnerabilities of these systems and I think that testing only once in ten years is insufficient.
The final ten-year requirement must —I repeat must -- be the absolute minimum standard.
We need to make sure that consistent physical testing of our pipelines is a principal priority, and I strongly encourage more testing beyond the statutory requirements.
It is important to recognize, that the OPS has made significant steps to increase safety —while last year there were 126 liquid pipeline accidents; this is almost a 50 percent decrease from a decade earlier.
Yet, 126 accidents is still too many. We need to do more.
I am pleased that the Administration's FY2005 budget includes funding for 168 full-time inspectors —this is an increase from 111 when the Pipeline Safety bill was passed.
In addition to increased inspectors, I think we need to focus on providing states and communities the resources that they need to develop security, safety and response plans to ensure that we will not have another tragic pipeline anniversary to mourn.
I look forward to hearing from you today specifically about the ongoing testing of our nation's pipelines and also the steps that are being taken to ensure transparency in the pipeline system to ensure that our cities, municipalities and citizens are given the information that they need to make decisions regarding public safety around the pipeline routes.