In a shocking exclusive report, Marcus Stern and Sebastian Jones at InsideClimate News write that the top official of the agency that regulates oil and gas pipelines recently admitted that he's essentially powerless as a regulator:
Jeffrey Wiese, the nation's top oil and gas pipeline safety official, recently strode to a dais beneath crystal chandeliers at a New Orleans hotel to let his audience in on an open secret: the regulatory process he oversees is "kind of dying."
Wiese told several hundred oil and gas pipeline compliance officers that his agency, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration (PHMSA), has "very few tools to work with" in enforcing safety rules even after Congress in 2011 allowed it to impose higher fines on companies that cause major accidents.
"Do I think I can hurt a major international corporation with a $2 million civil penalty? No," he said.
Lindsey Millar at The Arkansas Times reacts and raises a concern regarding the Exxon pipeline that is currently shut down following the oil spill in Mayflower, Arkansas:
Why is PHMSA so toothless? Money, for one, ICN reports: Congressional gridlock has kept the agency's pipeline safety budget flat for the last three years at $108 million, which affords the office only 135 inspectors to oversee 2.6 million miles of pipeline.
Remember, whether Exxon's Pegasus pipeline goes back online is ultimately up to PHMSA.
I can't say I'm surprised to hear that regulations of the oil industry are lax. It is obvious the penalties for oil spills are far too small to actually incentivize oil companies to do everything they can to avoid spills. But the bluntness of these comments from the nation's top oil spill regulator is shocking.
As are these numbers reported by InsideClimate News:
Two stark numbers illustrate the challenge the administration faces in ensuring pipeline safety while pressing ahead with new pipeline projects: 135 federal inspectors oversee 2.6 million miles of pipeline, which means each inspector is responsible for almost enough pipe to circle the Earth. PHMSA says it has the help of about 300 state inspectors, but not all states have inspection programs.
According to an analysis of inspection records by the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), only a fifth of the nation's 2.6 million miles of pipeline have been inspected by PHMSA or its state partners since 2006.
VIDEO: Christopher Hart member of the National Transportation Safety Board details some of the areas they are focusing their attention this year, including pipeline safety.