Washington, DC — Our federal pipeline safety agency spends much more of its resources attending industry events and conferences than it does responding to pipeline spills, ruptures and blasts, according to records released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In fact, the U.S. Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) devotes nearly three times as many person-days to attending industry-sponsored events than it does attending to safety incidents.
“Its records show PHMSA officials spending much of their time schmoozing with oil executives in fancy hotels and convention centers,” stated PEER Counsel Kathryn Douglass who collected agency travel logs and staff reports through the Freedom of Information Act. “PHMSA sees itself not so much as a regulator but as an arm of industry and these travel figures reflect that corporate dominance.”
Agency records covering the five-year period from 2007 to 2012 reveal that PHMSA–
- Dispatched staff delegations to 850 conferences and meetings with industry. These events chewed up almost 3,000 staff days in an agency with a staff of approximately 500. These numbers dwarf the 970 staff days spent responding to significant pipeline incidents;
- Spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars ($245,938.36) in travel expenses for industry events, an amount substantially more than it spent in travel for all pipeline incidents ($171,801.25); and
- By contrast, there have been nearly 300 incidents, such as a spill, explosion or breakdown, where PHMSA dispatched no one to conduct a follow-up inspection.
This imbalance in how PHMSA uses its resources is striking because there is such a yawning vacuum in the field, occasioning greater risks to public safety and the environment. Each year, there are more than 100 “significant” pipeline spills involving loss of life, injuries, fire and/or major spillage. Since 2010, PHMSA has presided over the most destructive pipeline accidents in U.S. history. Yet, the agency has –
- Not conducted a single surprise exercise for more than eight years;
- Inspected less than a fifth of the 2.6 million miles of pipeline it regulates; and
- Implemented almost none of the corrective steps urged by the National Transportation Safety Board following two of the nation’s biggest pipeline disasters.
“Our federal pipeline agency is a victim of self-emasculation,” Douglass added, pointing out PHMSA could double its presence in the field by attending fewer industry conferences. “PHMSA is like the college student who does his research assignments at frat parties rather than in the library.”