Statement of Pipeline Safety Trust

Carl Weimer: [0:02] All right, thank you. Good morning, and good morning to everybody watching on the Internet. I know some people in Washington State got up very early this morning to watch this, too. I hope you've had as much coffee as I have. [0:13] I want to start with a partial apology because I think some people in the room may know or may at least blame me that we're all here today. Over the past couple of years, we've been asked to testify to Congress 10 times. In a number of those testimonies we've included information about pipeline safety and why it's important for these standards to be easily publicly available.

[0:34] When Congress heard our explanations of why we thought that, they agreed with us and put section 24 into the law. We certainly support section 24.

[0:44] I don't know if I introduced myself. I'm the executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust. I wear another hat. I'm also an elected county council member in the county I live in. I've got a presentation back there some place. Maybe I need to do...

[0:56] No, that didn't do anything.

David Halperin: [1:00] Maybe click the other side.
Carl: [1:08] There. [pause] Is it going to come up full scale there? [laughter]
Carl: [1:30] Yeah.
David Halperin: [1:32] There you go.
Carl: [1:33] While we're waiting for that, we've been very much focused on the pipeline safety standards in that. I understand that section 24 really has opened the crack in the door of much bigger issues. A lot of what the other people have talked about today are the much larger issues about making standards freely available. [1:51] I want to try to go back and focus on why we thought it was important for the pipeline safety standards to be freely available and to talk about that specifically.

[2:01] Just a couple examples to go along with that of why the public -- when I talk about the public, I certainly include local governments, because they don't make these standards, they don't make these regulations, but they're certainly impacted by that or interested in this. Just a couple examples of why people are interested in the pipeline safety standards, two that I'll use.

[2:25] The picture there, just to give some people some eye candy, is a picture of a fracking well. You may have heard of fracking. It has been in the news a lot lately, and it's a pretty amazing new technology that has managed to give us more natural gas in this country than we know what to do with all of the sudden.

[2:42] What comes with that new technology is tens of thousands of miles of new pipelines running through communities all over the country, especially in places like Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio. There drilling is going on. Pipelines are going in.

[2:57] One of the requests we get for standards over and over again from local government or citizens is, how do we know whether these pipelines are regulated or not? Well, the way you find that out is there's a standard that was developed by the American Petroleum Institute that has the definition of whether a pipeline is a gathering line, which may be regulated or may not, or whether it's a protection line, which is totally unregulated.

[3:21] Local governments can understand that standard and know whether the pipelines that are running next to their schools or through their housing developments are or are not regulated. It's important that they have access to that.

[3:32] The second example that I would give was referenced just this week in a National Transportation Safety Board investigation. That's public awareness.

[3:41] The American Petroleum Institute developed a standard that talks about how pipeline operators need to make the public aware of what the pipelines are in their areas. It's not just the general public. It's emergency responders. It's elected officials like I, we should know that we have these pipelines in our neighborhoods.

[3:59] What we hear after every major tragedy is some fire captain somewhere or some fire chief standing up and saying, "We had no idea we had a pipeline in our community."

[4:10] Well, this whole public awareness standard from the API governs how well these communities are educated about those things and whether those fire people know about that. There are some problems with that standard that have been identified, and TSB says it isn't working very well.

[4:25] This is a standard that is not technical. It's something that anybody can understand.

[4:33] Just a few more, the major reasons why we think that these things need to be accessible is, one, because they're part of the federal law. I'm going to go into each one of these in a little more depth.

[4:44] Also, because sometimes they're created by groups that have potential conflicts of interest with the public interest, and also because industry consensus-based standards may not lead to the best standard. I'm not saying we've heard all the benefits of consensus-based standards in there.

[5:04] There are huge benefits, but there are also concerns. That's one of the reasons why the light of day, through making these more transparent and publicly available, really needs to be shown on these standards so the public can decide whether they really are the best standards.

[5:19] The extent, we've seen some of these slides before, and I'm clicking the wrong thing here. The extent of the problem, this is from some of our testimony to the Senate and to the House. We quote 85 standards in PHMSA's law.

[5:35] The reason that's is different than what PHMSA has said is some of those are duplicates. They're in both the natural gas part of the law and the liquid part of the law. There's quite a few of them.

[5:44] Some of the others, this is just some of the basic costs you see. Local governments don't have a lot of extra money today to be paying for standards to figure out about the pipelines that run through them, and certainly the citizens don't always either.

[6:00] One of the things I talked about was that some of these groups that create these standards have potential conflicts with the public interest -- not all of the groups, but some of them. When we went through testifying to Congress, we went in and we looked at the mission and goals statements for some of the standard setting organizations.

[6:17] The American Gas Institute, here's a quote, "focuses on the advocacy of natural gas issues that are priorities for the membership, and that are achievable in a cost-effective way, delivers measurable value to AGA members." That's not the same as a public interest.

[6:34] PRCI is "a community of the world's leading pipeline companies, the vendors, service providers, equipment manufacturers, and other organizations supporting our industry."

[6:46] API develops some of these. "We speak for the oil and natural gas industry to the public, Congress, and the Executive Branch, state government, and the media. We negotiate with regulatory industries, represent the industry in legal proceedings, participate in coalitions, and work in partnerships with other associations to achieve our members' public policy goals."

[7:11] Oh, I'm doing that. My eyes are bad, so I'm advancing mine.

[7:16] The other one is the Plastic Pipe Institute. "PPI members share a common interest in broadening awareness and creating opportunities that expand market share and extend the use of plastic pipe in all its many applications. The mission of the Plastic Pipe Institute is to make plastic the material of choice for all piping locations."

[7:38] Some of these goal and mission statements are at odds for what may be best for the public. We're not saying these folks shouldn't be involved with standards setting, because like some of the other members have mentioned, this is really where the expertise lies.

[7:52] It's very important that the public can have access to the standards that are developed by these groups so they can decide whether they're really following the goals that have stated on their websites, or if these really are standards that are being developed for the public interest.

[8:09] One of the other points that we've noticed in some these, in some of the NTSB concerns and even concerns with the gathering line standard that I mentioned early on, was that not all consensus based standards are the best standard possible. If you've ever been part of a consensus organization or consensus process, you know that if you don't have all parties at the table what you end up with is a rush to the bottom. It only takes a couple of people to object.

Recently, a head of one of these consensus standards organizations explained to me that a consensus-based standard development doesn't lead to the best standards. It leads to the best standards that everybody will agree to. It's another reason that transparency needs to be on these standards, so people can see: [8:37] are we getting the best standard or are we getting a lowest-common-denominator standard?

[9:05] Finally, just some possible solutions, because I know that's really what we're here today trying to figure out. We differ a little bit with my colleague to the left. We think the API and the NFPA model of making their standards available read-only online, that's a good compromise that we could live with.

[9:23] We would prefer them to be totally, freely available, but I think the read-only model takes care of most of the problems we've talked about, especially when the standards are being developed. So that's a model that has already been moved forward from NFPA, API, and others.

[9:40] PHMSA could certainly develop their own standards. That's a costly thing for them to do that. Or PHMSA, my last point here, could pay some of the SDOs to develop standards for them. That would take Congress, if Congress really believes in what they passed in section 24, they would need to up PHMSA's budget to be able to cover those things. That responsibility would have to go back to Congress to do those things.

[10:08] My last slide talks a little bit about one of the ways to pay for the changes is to increase the user fees. Most all of the way PHMSA gets their money is through user fees on the industry. The industry's not going to want to pay for that, but there's some evidence that certainly they have the ability to.

[10:27] On the bottom there, there's a study that the industry did after integrity management went into effect. Integrity management is one of the new big standards that kicked in early 2000, 2002. In the study, it's the benefits of consensus standards, a pipeline case study. It's very specific to pipeline safety standards. I put a website address up there is you want to read that case study.

[10:55] PHMSA developed the standard for the liquid industry for integrity management. It started in the late `90s, 2000. The gas industry, because of some serious incidents, saw that they were going to have the some regulations coming their direction.

[11:10] What this study from the industry shows is they rapidly formed a group to develop a standard. By constraining the scope of that standard and what that standard covered through that, this study goes on to show that standard saved the industry $4.2 billion over 20 years by constraining the scope of what came out the other end of that standard.

[11:36] Well, if they can save $4.2 billion on one standard, they probably have the ability through user fees or through the development of these standards themselves to support the standard developing organizations.

[11:47] Those are the concerns that we took to Congress, and when they heard that they passed section 24, and we support that. Thank you.

Unofficial Transcript Provided by Public.Resource.Org