A previously abandoned natural gas pipeline exploded in Seattle, Washington on March 9, 2016, injuring nine firefighters, destroyed two buildings, and damaged multiple nearby structures.  The entity responsible for regulating intrastate and interstate gas pipelines in the state, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, recently released a report from its investigation of the incident, concluding that it was caused by (1) external damage to the above-ground portion of the service line; and (2) improper abandonment of the line, which had not been cut and capped when it was taken out of service in 2004.  The report highlights the importance of adhering to federal regulatory requirements concerning proper pipeline abandonment, which was also the subject of a recent PHMSA Advisory Bulletin issued in response to a Congressional directive in the 2016 PIPES Act.

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The issuance of a Corrective Action Order (CAO) can have significant and ongoing consequences for a pipeline operator.  A powerful enforcement tool typically associated with the shutdown of a pipeline facility, a CAO often means numerous compliance obligations and significant disruption of normal operations, not to mention the stigma accompanying a CAO’s pre-requisite finding that continued operation of a pipeline facility would be “hazardous to life, property, or the environment.”  49 U.S.C. 60112(a)(1).

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