WASHINGTON – The Justice Department and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) announced today a settlement requiring comprehensive reform on El Paso Natural Gas Company’s (EPNG) entire 10,000 mile pipeline system. The action results from a tragic explosion of an EPNG pipeline which killed twelve people in Carlsbad, New Mexico in August 2000.
In the first judicial settlement brought under the Pipeline Safety Act, EPNG will spend at least $86 million to implement widespread and comprehensive modifications of its Natural Gas Pipeline System, and pay a $15.5 million civil penalty to resolve the alleged violations. The complaint filed concurrently with the settlement agreement today alleges that EPNG failed to employ personnel qualified in corrosion control methods; failed to investigate and mitigate internal corrosion in two of its pipelines transporting corrosive gas; and failed to suitably monitor those pipelines to determine the effectiveness of steps taken to minimize internal corrosion. “The comprehensive pipeline modifications EPNG will complete as part of today’s settlement will help to ensure that the severe internal corrosion that resulted in such a tragic accident will not be repeated,” said Ronald J. Tenpas, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Today’s settlement shows how the use of judicial enforcement by the Departments of Justice and Transportation can result in meaningful reform that will improve public safety and help to bring the industry into compliance.”
“We have been working for several years to provide enhancements to El Paso’s pipeline integrity management, especially in areas of assessment and corrosion control,” said Stacey Gerard, PHMSA Assistant Administrator and Chief Safety Officer. “PHMSA remains committed to overseeing a pipeline system capable of servicing America’s vital energy needs as safely and reliably as possible.”
The cause of the 2000 explosion was determined to be a significant reduction in the pipe wall thickness due to severe internal corrosion. The settlement agreement requires EPNG to fully implement comprehensive reform focusing on internal corrosion on its entire interstate natural gas pipeline system extending from the San Juan, Permian, and Anadarko Basins to markets in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and northern Mexico. EPNG will be required to undertake the following actions:
-Modify its Natural Gas Pipeline System to enable certain segments to be inspected by in-line inspection tools to determine the wall thickness of the steel pipes;
-Remove pipeline drips that are not as effective as utilizing cleaning pigs on its system;
-Collect and analyze liquid samples for corrosive properties whenever a pipeline, vessel, pig trap, meter tube or tank is opened on its system;
-Comply with Gas Quality Guidelines that require the monitoring of potentially corrosive gas quality constituents in the gas stream, and report semi-annually that it complied with operating procedures for enforcement;
-Conduct annual reviews of EPNG’s Site Specific Plans and review all of its non-destructive examination (NDE) records and high resolution magnetic flux leakage data to determine if any facility needs to be inspected, reinspected or monitored to determine if wall loss is occurring;
-Develop a training program for EPNG’s corrosion control specialists and engineers.
The consent decree, lodged today in the U.S. District Court in New Mexico, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court. A copy of the consent decree is available on the Justice Department Web site at http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.