Following several recent fatal pipeline accidents, including one that killed five people in Allentown, PA, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood called upon U.S. pipeline owners and operators to conduct a comprehensive review of their oil and gas pipelines to identify areas of high risk and accelerate critical repair and replacement work. Secretary LaHood also announced federal legislation aimed at strengthening oversight on pipeline safety, as well as plans to convene a Pipeline Safety Forum on April 18th in Washington, DC, to gather state officials, industry leaders, and other pipeline safety stakeholders in order to discuss steps for improving the safety and efficiency of the nation’s pipeline infrastructure.

“People deserve to know that they can turn on the lights, the heat, or the stove without endangering their families and neighbors,” said Secretary LaHood.

The DOT’s new pipeline safety action plan was unveiled recently in Allentown, Pa, where a devastating natural gas pipeline failure killed five people and leveled homes and businesses on February 9.

Several other cities have also recently experienced pipeline incidents, including the environmentally devastating rupture in Marshall, MI, and the deadly San Bruno, CA, explosion which highlighted the need for pipeline operators to accelerate the repair, rehabilitation, and replacement of their highest risk lines.

In a meeting in March, LaHood asked the CEOs of major pipeline companies around the country to conduct a comprehensive review of their pipeline systems to identify the highest risk pipelines and prioritize critical repair needs. LaHood said the DOT would provide technical assistance in helping to identify high risk pipelines.

He also called on Congress to increase the maximum civil penalties for pipeline violations from $100,000 per day to $250,000 per day, and from $1 million for a series of violations to $2.5 million for a series of violations. He urged Congress to authorize the Department to close regulatory loopholes, strengthen risk management requirements, add more inspectors, and improve data reporting to help identify potential pipeline safety risks early.

“The Department’s pipeline safety action plan will address immediate concerns in pipeline safety, such as ensuring pipeline operators know the age and condition of their pipelines; proposing new regulations to strengthen reporting and inspection requirements; and making information about pipelines and the safety record of pipeline operators easily accessible to the public,” according to a DOT statement.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration will also create a new web page to provide the public – as well as community planners, builders and utility companies – with clear and easy to understand information about their local pipeline networks. Ensuring the public has access to information about local pipelines will help keep people safe and reduce the potential for serious accidents.

Pipeline incidents resulting in serious injury or death are down nearly 50 percent over the last 20 years. In 1991, there were 67 such incidents compared to 36 in 2010, and an average of 42 per year over the last 10 years. However, a series of recent incidents have highlighted the need to address the nation’s aging pipeline infrastructure.