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November 15, 2012
Population growth raises pipeline risks

Based on the average 28 deaths that occur each year because of hazardous materials accidents in transportation, a person in the United States is three times as likely to be killed by lightning.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) cites that statistic as evidence that its safety regulations and programs are working.  At the same time, PHMSA notes that micro-indicators such as population growth, energy consumption, and chemical production indicate that the risk of exposure to hazardous materials in transportation is expected to increase by 13 percent to 27 percent from 2011 to 2015.

Strategic goals 

That forecast underlies many of the challenges and strategies PHMSA describes in its Strategic Plan (2012-2016).  The strategy identifies goals in three areas PHMSA seeks to achieve by 2016:

  • Safety: Reduce the number of pipeline incidents involving death or major injury to between 26 and 37 per year, and reduce the number of hazardous materials incidents involving death or major injury to between 21 and 32 per year.
  • Environment: Reduce the number of hazardous liquid pipeline spills with environmental consequences to between 65 and 81 per year, and reduce the number of hazardous materials incidents with environmental damage to between 44 and 64 per year.
  • Organizational excellence: Build a stronger safety culture in PHMSA by demonstrating a collective commitment to emphasize safety over competing goals and demands; substantially improve the work environment and employee satisfaction in PHMSA; and invest in employees, with Individual Development Plans for every PHMSA employee and increased access to training and professional development.


The many existing and expected measures the strategy lists to meet the goals include:

  • Work with state pipeline safety programs and pipeline operators to ensure that the identification, repair, rehabilitation, requalification, or replacement of the highest-risk pipelines are accelerated.
  • Extend the pipeline integrity management program to gas distribution pipeline systems where 80 percent of the most serious safety incidents occur. Rules have been published, but implementation will take several years.
  • Investigate new technologies for improving the assessment, detection, and control of pipeline risks.

Inspections and rules

Plans that may make a more immediate impact on industry include: integrating, targeting, and expanding safety inspections based on the most serious risks posed by corrosion and material failure of hazardous liquid and gas transmission lines; developing standards for loading and unloading bulk hazardous materials, including hazmats that are toxic by inhalation (TIH); publishing new safety rules for transporting flammable and combustible liquids aboard aircraft; and requiring buffers or secondary containment (i.e., outer packaging or absorbent material) designed to limit the spread of a hazardous material in the event of failure of the primary package or container. 

The strategy also promises that PHMSA will continue enforcement by “holding companies accountable for the risks they impose on others.”

Click here to read PHMSA’s strategic plan.

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