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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Recent legislative and regulatory developments at the federal and state levels signal lawmakers’ increased attention to issues related to the abandonment of oil and gas pipelines.  The U.S. House of Representatives is currently considering a bill, proposed earlier this year in the wake of a release of crude oil in the streets of a Los Angeles suburb from an out-of-service pipeline. The bill would amend the federal Pipeline Safety Act to require inspections of pipelines to confirm their status each time they are listed as abandoned or transferred as part of a sale.  Just after this bill was introduced in the House, the State of Louisiana passed a law requiring approval from the State Public Service Commission for the abandonment of portions of interstate natural gas pipelines entirely within the State, allowing the Commission to deny such approval if abandonment would cause gas supply inadequacies.  Other states, such as North Dakota, have also recently passed legislation concerning proper procedures for pipeline abandonment.  These developments reflect the range of issues associated with pipeline abandonment, from public safety to energy supply reliability.

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