With 270,000 miles of gas and oil pipelines in Texas, how closely do you think the state is monitoring the lines under its supervision? Consider that two deadly pipeline accidents happened last year in Johnson County and the Panhandle.
According to a new report from the Texas State Auditor, the Texas Railroad Commission (TRC) inspected 65 percent of high priority pipeline systems. The report also found that the TRC’s own inspection plan is incomplete and lacks accuracy.
However, the report found that the TRC inspection regime was “substantially in compliance” with state and federal regulations.
When we asked the TRC for a comment, they sent us a prepared statement praising itself as “one of the top safety pipeline regulatory programs in the nation” while at the same time saying it “looks forward to implementing recommendations from State Auditor’s Office.”
When we emailed them back to request a telephone interview and ask specifically about the 35 percent of high priority pipelines that weren’t inspected, the TRC spokesperson said, “The Commission has begun evaluating the pipeline inspection scheduling process to determine the feasibility of increasing the number of Priority 1 system inspections each year with current staffing.”
Translated: The TRC isn’t sure if it can increase its inspections without hiring more people. But after its budget was cut by 21 percent by state lawmakers in the last legislative session, that might be easier said than done.
This all may be small comfort for some people in Fort Worth, an area with hundreds of miles of pipeline. The local neighborhood association president Libby Willis told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that it "should be a wake-up call.”
Coincidentally, the company that operates a gas pipeline feeding the Decker Power Plant in northeast Austin plans to inspect it next week. The process requires Austin Energy to burn off remaining gas in the pipeline, which will cause flames as high as 50 feet to shoot out from Decker Power Plant for about four hours on Tuesday. Austin Energy asked us to tell you about it so you don't call 9-1-1 if they see it.