This is a long-delayed reaction to fatal explosions and large spillages that have occurred over many decades in California and New Jersey.
Safety advocates claimed that the U.S. Transportation Department's move would have not prevented the incidents that led to the new rule. It applies only to new or replacement pipelines, and not to the hundreds of thousands of miles that run across the country, many which are decades old and corrosive.
Companies must install emergency valves to stop oil, natural gas and other dangerous fuels flowing through pipelines. This rule was created in response to the 2010 San Bruno gas explosion that resulted in eight deaths.
Since the 1990s, the National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that large pipelines be equipped with remote-controlled or automatic valves to minimize the risk of an accident. The safety board recommended that the Transportation Department expedite the requirements for shutting off valves in cities, and natural areas, following the 1994 explosion of a gas pipeline and subsequent fire that claimed eight lives in Edison, Jersey.
Pipeline companies have resisted the installation of new valves for many years because they were too costly and could be shut off from fuel supply.
Pete Buttigieg, Transportation Secretary, stated that more stringent regulations were necessary for the industry because too many people have been affected by pipeline failures.
He stated that the valves would protect against large methane releases, which is a potent greenhouse gas and has been blamed for driving climate change.
Buttigieg stated that "Today, we are taking an essential step to protect communities from hazardous pipeline leaks -- helping save the lives and property of people in all parts of the country while preventing superpolluting methane leakeds."
The Pipeline Safety Trust is a Washington advocacy group based in Bellingham. It said that the rule was a significant step forward since Congress has mandated stricter pipeline regulations for the past ten years.
The group stated that exempting existing pipelines from the ground would not prevent another accident like the one at San Bruno that involved a more than 50-year-old pipeline.
Bill Caram, the executive director of safety trust, stated that "this rule falls far short" of the NTSB recommendation. He also said that it will not offer additional safety for communities living near existing pipelines.
According to the government, it would cost $5.9million annually for companies in order to comply with Thursday’s rule. Industry representatives stated that a single valve for an existing line could be as high as $1.5 million, and it would cost billions to retrofit lines across the country.
The rule was closely drafted by representatives from the industry. Their request for valves to be placed more evenly along pipelines and to remove the requirement that some pipes are low-risk was denied. Transportation officials opted for industry-recommended guidelines that will allow operators to adjust the location of valves.
John Stoody, Vice President of the Association of Oil Pipe Lines, stated that the final rule contains "arbitrary requirements" for operators of pipelines. These are not based on real-world operating conditions and the low risk of spillage in certain scenarios.
Amy Andryszak is the president of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America. She said that her company and other companies are still reviewing the rule, but they were generally supportive of safety rules.
Experts believe that automatic valves can eliminate human-caused errors that lead to accidents. For example, a delay of 17 hours to confirm the Kalamazoo pipeline rupture in 2010. This was due to workers not responding to alarms warning them about a possible leak. The rupture released over 800,000 gallons (3 600,000 liters of crude oil) and caused $1 billion in property- and environmental damage.
A 30-inch (76 centimeter) long gas pipeline burst into flames in San Bruno. It was left burning for 89 minutes, before it was finally shut down by a manual valve. An AP investigation revealed that the pipeline operator Pacific Gas & Electric Co. had agreed that remote-operated valves were better at protecting public safety but that they were not required or necessary.
Questions about the new rule were not answered by officials from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration of the Transportation Department.
Caram stated that standards for equipment that can detect leaks and identify where they are occurring, which is a common problem in pipeline accidents, were also missing from the new rule.
Instead, the rule states that pipeline companies must take immediate steps to confirm a leak if they receive an alarm or any other notification. However, the company is responsible for the confirmation process.
Recent accidents were caused by faulty leak detection systems. These include a 350,000 gallons diesel oil spillage in December into a wetlandsoutside New Orleans, and an underwater rupture off California's coastlast Oct that contaminated the ocean with tens to thousands of gallons of crude oil.