Recent pipeline accidents, such as those in Allentown, Pa., and San Bruno, Calif., have raised concerns about pipeline safety and the consequences of the aging natural gas infrastructure in the United States. Currently, there are more than 2.4 million miles of natural gas pipeline infrastructure in the country that supplies 177 million Americans with natural gas. Natural gas utilities spend more than $19 billion annually to help enhance the safety of the natural gas distribution system and to upgrade and expand service.

According to an article in the Bismarck Tribune, the North Dakota Department of Health plans to launch a website this week for the public to monitor reported leaks and oil spills. Department officials were quoted saying that the new site will have data on current incidents and information on spills as far back as 1975.

On June 20th, the Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) marks its 35th year of operation. The 800-mile pipeline opened in 1977 after three years of construction when, at that time, it was the single-largest private infrastructure project in the world with an $8 billion price tag.

Yesterday's Christian Science Monitor ran a story that several major cybersecurity attacks on our nation's natural gas pipeline system are underway, based on alerts from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). According to the story, at least three private alerts were sent by DHS to pipeline companies since March 29, that a wave of attacks have been occurred for months and could impact Canadian pipeline companies as well.

On April 2, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to determine the adequacy of state pipeline damage prevention programs. PHMSA anticipates “[t]he … benefit of this rulemaking action is an increased deterrent to violations of One-Call requirements” by directing any excavation work to first use 811, the National Call Before You Dig Number, before a project begins. Many states have been criticized by industry and environmental groups in having weak damage prevention laws that have little effective enforcement. The move was hailed by the Association of Oil Pipe Lines CEO, Andy Black, "“Liquid pipeline operators support strong damage prevention plans to prevent others excavating near pipelines from exploiting loopholes that can lead to accident or injury.”

Every day, a network of more than 2 million miles of pipelines quietly supplies the United States with critical energy products to heat and cool our homes, drive our cars to work or fly across the country for a family vacation.  Although pipeline accidents are rare, their consequences can be very harmful and sometimes fatal. States are tasked with supplying the overwhelming number of inspectors to keep this huge and expansive network operating safely to protect the public and the environment.

States have a significant role to play in regulating the safety of the nation's enormous pipeline network. Policymakers at the state level should be aware that additional federal scrutiny of damage prevention programs is likely to increase from congressional directives and increasing safety expectations from the general public.