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Pipeline safety bill passes Senate, moves to President

—Marissa Padilla

On December 14, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) hailed the passage of legislation, which he co-sponsored, to increase public safety protections for natural gas and oil pipelines. After passage in the U.S. House, the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Jobs Creation Act, which reauthorizes the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, passed the Senate unanimously. The Senate version of the bill was sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and also co-sponsored by Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Robert Casey (D-PA), and Mark Begich (D-AK).

“I’m pleased that Congress was able to come together and enhance safety standards for pipelines, in both urban and rural areas, in order to prevent pipeline explosions and spills that threaten public safety and the environment,” Udall said. “Given our natural resources, New Mexico is home to many oil and gas pipelines, and both industry and state and federal regulators share a responsibility to ensure that they are operated and maintained properly.”

In August 2000, a severely corroded natural gas transmission line exploded in a rural part of Eddy County, New Mexico, killing twelve members of several related families camping near the Pecos River. The incident is considered to be the second worst pipeline explosion in the U.S, and the tragedy helped spur Congress to enact the first dedicated federal pipeline safety law in 2002. Udall was an early supporter of that legislation when he served in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The 2011 legislation includes a requirement from a Udall amendment adopted earlier this year, which addresses safety issues in rural areas by requiring companies to share their pipeline inspection data. Currently, pipeline inspection data must only be collected and maintained in designated “high consequence areas,” which are largely denser, urban areas. This will now expand to rural areas as well.

Anticipating this new requirement, the Pipeline Safety and Hazardous Materials Administration is already preparing a formal information collection request that will cover rural areas. After analyzing the data, the federal agency has full authority to extend comprehensive pipeline inspection requirements to rural areas, as called for by Udall during Senate Commerce Committee hearings.

Rick Kessler, who serves as Vice President of the nonprofit Pipeline Safety Trust said: “We are grateful for Sen. Udall’s support for stronger pipeline safety measures and appreciate the work he’s done to make this a bill worth enacting into law.”

The 2011 pipeline safety legislation is the second reauthorization and expansion of that original legislation, following another series of high-profile pipeline accidents in recent years, including a gas line explosion that killed eight people in San Bruno, California and oil pipeline breaks that spilled thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River in Montana and Kalamazoo River in Michigan.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is an agency within the Department of Transportation charged with setting and enforcing safety standards for interstate natural gas and oil pipelines. The 2011 legislation includes the following safety enhancements:

  • Increases the maximum penalty for violating pipeline safety standards, from $100,000 to $200,000 for a single violation, and from $1,000,000 to $2,000,000 for a series of violations
  • Authorizes the expansion of pipeline safety requirements beyond urban “high-consequence areas” to rural areas, where many of New Mexico’s pipelines are located
  • Enhances data collection, including inspection data in rural areas not currently required
  • Grants broad authority to issue standards to address risks and imminent threats to public safety and the environment
  • Requires regulations to set time limits on accident and leak notifications to state and local officials and emergency responders
  • Expands the use of emergency automated shut-off and excess flow valves which reduce damage from explosions and leaks
  • Enhances state “One-Call” requirements for contractors to call before digging to prevent a leading cause of pipeline accidents

Rainwater harvesting approved by SSCAFCA board

—Mark Conkling

The Southern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority (SSCAFCA) rainwater harvesting program is now available on the agency’s website, following its approval by the Board of Directors at their November meeting. The work shows that potable water use, arroyo erosion, and pollutant discharge could all be reduced by thirty to sixty percent per year if rainwater harvesting were adopted for future construction in the region.

The project was the result of nearly a year of study into the potential benefits of rainwater harvesting. Rainwater harvesting is the process of intercepting and collecting precipitation that can be used to sustain plant life in the arid portions of the Southwest.

Since the agency’s formation in 1990, SSCAFCA has developed an overall drainage strategy to provide for public health, safety, and welfare in its jurisdiction, which includes Rio Rancho, Corrales, and the portion of Bernalillo west of the Rio Grande. “It seemed to us,” said SSCAFCA Chairman Mark Conkling, ”that by harvesting rainwater from rooftops and in small, on-lot ponds, we might, over time, be able to substantially decrease the size and cost of taxpayer-funded flood control facilities.”

Working collaboratively with several engineering firms, the City of Rio Rancho and with public input, SSCAFCA studied the impact of rooftop collection, which conforms to the State Engineer Rainwater/Snowmelt Harvesting Policy. Various scenarios were studied, with these conclusions among the results: collecting rooftop runoff for on-site use reduces the average annual storm water runoff volume by about fifty percent. It would also reduce the average annual erosion volume by about thirty percent.

For single-family residences, how a lot is contoured prior to construction can also have significant impact on flood control and erosion. As part of the year-long study, several template designs for grading were created to guide developers and builders for best practices of on-lot, naturalistic containment. These designs are available at no charge to property owners and those in the construction industry.

The SSCAFCA Board expressed hope that these measures would be well-received and proactively implemented. Several other New Mexico cities require that rainwater harvesting be incorporated into new construction, while others offer a voluntary or financial incentive to do so.

For more information, to view the grading templates, or learn about the Rainwater Harvesting program, visit the SSCAFCA website at

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