Wednesday, September 14, 2011

PHMSA draft report on pipeline safety called a dishonest PR puff piece

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The nation's top pipeline regulators have produced a draft report on the state of the nation's gas-transmission system that misrepresents accident statistics, overstates the industry's track record and omits key issues arising from the San Bruno, Calif., explosion and other recent disasters, according to a copy obtained by The San Francisco Chronicle.

The draft "Report to America on Pipeline Safety" - rolled out to a select audience a month ago by officials at the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) - also takes a much friendlier tone toward the pipeline industry than the National Transportation Safety Board did in its findings into what caused a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. transmission line to explode a year ago in San Bruno, killing eight people and destroying 38 homes.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood ordered the report in April in reaction to pipeline accidents in Texas, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida, as well as San Bruno.

A draft version was presented to a gathering of industry executives, government officials and two safety advocates in Arlington, Va., on Aug. 2. It is undergoing more review before it will be released, the pipeline agency said.

"We don't know if internal reviews will require a significant rewrite," the agency said in a statement.

Two prominent safety advocates who have been appointed to government committees to review pipeline safety initiatives gave the report a thumbs-down at the Aug. 2 meeting, a transcript shows.

"This report as currently configured is not credible," said Richard Kuprewicz, a pipeline safety consultant from Redmond, Wash. "It contains many errors of fact."

Carl Weimer, executive director of the nonprofit Pipeline Safety Trust in Bellingham, Wash., warned that the public is "going to start questioning the report right off the bat."

Donald Stursma, an Iowa pipeline official and a member of a federal gas pipeline advisory board, said at the session that the draft is "not really ready for prime time."

The critics were outnumbered, however, by a dozen industry officials who defended their safety record.

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