DOT’s Federal Pipeline Safety Program: Background and Key Issues for Congress

The U.S. energy pipeline network is integral to the nation’s energy supply and provides vital links to other critical infrastructure, such as power plants, airports, and military bases. These pipelines are geographically widespread, running alternately through remote and densely populated regions—from Arctic Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico and nearly everywhere in between. Because these pipelines carry volatile, flammable, or toxic materials, they have the potential to injure the public, destroy property, and damage the environment. Although they are generally an efficient and comparatively safe means of transport, pipeline systems are nonetheless vulnerable to accidents, operational failure, and malicious attacks. A series of accidents in California, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, among other places, have demonstrated this vulnerability and have heightened congressional concern about U.S. pipeline safety. The Department of Energy’s first Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), released in 2015, also highlighted pipeline safety as a growing concern for the nation’s energy infrastructure. The federal pipeline safety program resides primarily within the Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), although its inspection and enforcement activities rely heavily upon partnerships with the states. Together, the federal and state pipeline safety agencies administer a comprehensive set of regulatory authorities which has changed significantly over the last decade and continues to do so. The federal pipeline safety program is authorized through the fiscal year ending September 30, 2019, under the Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act of 2016 (PIPES Act; P.L. 114-183) signed by President Obama on June 22, 2016. This report reviews the history of federal programs for pipeline safety, discusses significant safety concerns, and summarizes recent developments focusing on key policy issues. It discusses the roles of other federal agencies involved in pipeline safety and security, including their relationship with PHMSA. Although pipeline security is not mainly under PHMSA’s jurisdiction, the report examines the agency’s past role in pipeline security and its recent activities working on security-related issues with other agencies.


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Digital/other
  • Features: Figures; References; Tables;
  • Pagination: 32p

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01705720
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Report/Paper Numbers: R44201
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Apr 16 2019 4:40PM