Making State Gas Pipelines Safe and Reliable: An Assessment of State Policy

pipeline valveMarch 2011 
By Jacquelyn Pless


As the safest and least costly method of transporting energy, oil and gas pipelines deliver the resources necessary for electricity generation, transportation, and heating and cooling. Every year, more than 2 million miles of pipelines deliver trillions of cubic feet of natural gas and hundreds of billions of tons of liquid petroleum in the United States.1 Ensuring the reliability and safety of this massive pipeline infrastructure is critical to households, businesses and industries across the United States.

After the natural gas pipeline explosion in California in 2010 and another fatal pipeline explosion in Pennsylvania, more focus has been placed on state and federal pipeline safety. Although the federal government is primarily responsible for pipeline oversight, state involvement varies. Nine states are authorized to act as interstate agents to inspect interstate pipelines, and most pipeline inspections are carried out by state regulatory agencies, which are responsible for intrastate pipeline safety.

The importance of pipeline infrastructure is likely to grow due to the tremendous increase in U.S. natural gas supplies that can be accessed with new drilling technologies. Its role in electricity generation is increasing, as is the amount of natural gas that is transported across the country.

NCSL’s analysis of pipeline safety data found that the number of accidents per mile of pipeline varies from state to state, and states that dedicate more time to inspections experience fewer accidents. However, some states experience substantially more accidents than others that dedicate comparable time to inspections.

NCSL’s key findings include:

  • The total number of significant incidents—those that incur consequences such as fatality or injury requiring in-patient hospitalization, $50,000 or more in total costs (1984 dollars), or liquid release resulting in a fire or explosion—that states experienced from 2000 to 2009 ranged from 1 in New Hampshire to 531 in Texas with a median of 30.
  • In 2009, Inspection Person Days varied from 62 in Maine to 4,368 in New York with a median of 499.
  • In 2009, Inspection Person Days per 1,000 Miles of Natural Gas Transmission Pipeline ranged from 26 in Montana to 1,305 in Rhode Island, a 50-fold difference. The median for all states is 107.
  • States that dedicate less time to inspections generally experience more significant incidents, which suggests that more inspection time can reduce the amount of incidents. On average, states with less than 400 inspection person days a year experienced 1.55 significant accidents per 1,000 miles of pipeline, whereas states with more than 400 inspection person days experienced an average of 0.9 significant incidents, a 41 percent decrease. When an outlier state is omitted from the analysis, the decline is even more substantial—resulting in a seventy five percent decrease.
  • In 2010, at least 11 states considered and 4 states enacted legislation related to pipeline safety. Most bills would improve pipeline security and create committees to study safety concerns, increase penalties for safety violations, or upgrade emergency response plans.

Complete Report (PDF)

 U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, General Pipeline FAQs (Washington, D.C.: U.S. DOT, Aug. 29, 2007).