The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general’s office has launched an investigation into whether the nation’s oil and gas industry used “deceptive practices” to circumvent safety requirements for pipelines that carry crude oil and natural gas liquids.
The agency is also looking into whether pipelines that pass through sensitive lands are being used for “illegal activities.”
In its latest report, released Thursday, the IG said it received more than 100 complaints from oil and industry and environmental groups in 2016 about pipeline safety and environmental risks, including the safety of the pipelines’ infrastructure.
It also found that the pipeline system was under “significant” threat due to the increased volume of crude oil transported by pipeline.
“Despite the growing threat posed by these risks, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) continues to maintain an open dialogue with the pipeline and oil and energy industries to address these concerns and continue to improve safety standards,” the report said.
“We are committed to conducting the most comprehensive review possible of pipeline safety issues across the industry to ensure that all safety and operational requirements are being met.”
The IG’s report found that while the pipeline industry has “developed a process for ensuring the safe operation of pipelines and has developed the ability to mitigate these risks,” the pipeline inspector general was “not aware of any pipeline that has experienced a pipeline system issue in the 21-year history of the Pipeline, Hazardous Material Safety Administration.”
The pipeline inspector was hired in 2016 to review pipeline safety, and said in a statement Thursday that the IG’s findings are “a wake-up call to the industry and the American public.”
“As we have done before, we will work to ensure safety and to develop and implement the most rigorous pipeline safety standards in the pipeline field, as required by law,” the statement said.
The IG found that some of the pipeline companies that it looked at were not complying with their own safety protocols.
The Pipeline and Gasoline Safety Act of 1970 requires that pipelines and other infrastructure be “designed, constructed, and maintained to provide safe transportation of hazardous materials through or across the country, and to comply with federal, state, and local laws and regulations.”
The Pipeline and Energy Safety Act, passed in 1989, mandates that pipelines must be built and maintained in a manner that does not “create or exacerbate environmental hazards.”
The report also said the pipeline operators were not providing adequate notice of potential pipeline safety risks to the public, and that the company that owns the pipeline had “failed to implement procedures and controls” to prevent pipeline incidents.