CRS Report on Pipeline Safety and Security

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) recently issued a report on U.S. pipeline safety and security. The report suggests that Congress should assess how the various elements of U.S. pipeline safety and security fit together in the nation’s overall strategy to protect transportation infrastructure.

The U.S. has approximately 170,000 miles of transmission pipelines that carry hazardous liquids – accounting for over 70% of the nation’s crude oil and 60% of its refined petroleum products. These pipelines are essential to U.S. energy supply and have vital links to other critical infrastructure such as airports and power plants.

To date, pipeline security activities have relied upon voluntary industry compliance, notably the Transportation Security Administration (TSA's) Pipeline Security Guidelines issued (most recently) in April 2011. However, the scope and intensity of voluntary pipeline activities continues to increase.

According to the report, Congress may evaluate the effectiveness of the current voluntary pipeline security program after reviewing findings from TSA’s Corporate Security Reviews (CSRs) and voluntary pipeline "inspections." TSA already has the authority to issue regulations, as granted to the agency by Congress in 2007, but that authority has not, to date, been exercised by TSA.

The report also indicates that Congress has concerns about TSA staff resources. With only 13 full-time employees, TSA’s Pipelines Security Division has a limited field presence, and there are questions as to whether its CSR process, as currently structured, is effective.

Furthermore, the report suggests that TSA's and the Department of Transportation's pipeline security relationship may not be optimally aligned to carry out the nation’s overall pipeline safety and security mission. A bill offered last year in the House Committee on Homeland Security would require a study regarding the respective pipeline security roles and responsibilities of TSA and PHMSA.

Ensuring U.S. pipeline safety and security is a challenge that involves numerous stakeholders, including federal and state agencies as well as large and small pipeline operators. Reviewing how these groups can efficiently work together is an important step towards achieving this goal.


By Guest Blogger, Steve Roberts, Chemical Security Consulting & Training Services, Inc.
 

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