So, who is in charge when a pipeline ruptures, and oil spills into creeks, streets and yards? The E.P.A. is on the ground in Mayflower monitoring air quality, but is not the agency charged with pipeline oversight. The National Transportation Safety Board’s Office of Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Investigations will conduct the post-mortem and issue recommendations. But moving oil from point A to point B in this country falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Transportation, specifically, its Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Agency(PHMSA). Created in 2004, the PHMSA conducts inspections, coordinates pipeline spill response, proposes regulations, and responds to recommendations of the NTSB. It also issues Corrective Action Orders such as the one imposed on ExxonMobil on April 2 detailing the steps an operator must take before it receives the PHMSA’s approval for a pipeline restart. If you’ve never heard of the PHMSA, you’re not alone. In its 2013 budget, the agency acknowledges that it remains largely unknown to the average American. Its obscurity contrasts mightily with its enormous responsibility, however. According to the PHMSA’s website, there are over 2.6 million miles of pipelines in the United States, all subject to that agency’s oversight. The agency’s budget currently allows for a total of 90 pipeline inspectors for those 2.6 million miles.
Next up: Flow Reversal and Tar Sands: A Disaster in the Making?