* Pipeline safety fines would more than double to $2.5 mln
* Several pipeline accidents show need to boost safety
* House of Reps to vote on offshore drilling bills
By Tom Doggett
WASHINGTON, May 5 Reckless operators of U.S.
petroleum and natural gas pipelines would pay higher fines
under bipartisan safety legislation passed on Thursday by the
Senate Commerce Committee.
The bill is in response to several pipeline accidents in
the last year that killed more than a dozen people, destroyed
homes and polluted land and water.
"More needs to be done to strengthen oversight and address
safety vulnerabilities," said Senator Jay Rockefeller, the
The legislation would raise fines from $100,000 per day to
$250,000, and from $1 million for a series of pipeline
violations to $2.5 million.
The bill also requires automatic shut-off valves to prevent
oil spills and natural gas explosions, and would authorize more
federal pipeline safety inspectors.
The regulations would be enforced by the Transportation
Department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety
Administration, which the bill reauthorizes through 2014.
The measure must still pass the full Senate and then clear
the House of Representatives, before it could be signed in to
law by President Barack Obama.
This is the first of two energy bills being acted on in
Congress on Thursday. The House is scheduled to vote later in
the day on legislation to reinstate drilling opportunities off
the coast of Virginia and the Gulf of Mexico that were pulled
by the Obama administration after the BP (BP.L) oil spill.
Democrats were blocked from offering amendments to the
House bill that would have stripped billions of dollars in
federal tax breaks from big oil companies.
The House will vote next week on separate legislation to
set a 60-day deadline for the Interior Department to decide on
new offshore drilling permits.
The White House said on Thursday it opposed both House
bills, because they would undermine drilling safety regulations
imposed after last summer's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America trade
group that lobbies for major gas pipeline companies urged
Congress to pass the pipeline bill, saying it would result in a
safer fuel transportation system nationwide.
The United States has about 2.5 million miles (4 million
km) of pipelines that move oil, natural gas and other hazardous
liquids. The death toll from pipeline safety accidents rose
from nine in 2008 to 13 in 2009 and reached 22 last year.
Most recently, a natural gas explosion on a pipeline
operated by UGI Utilities (UGI.N) killed five people this past
February in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
A PG&E Corp (PCG.N) natural gas line exploded in a San
Francisco suburb last September, killing eight people and
destroying 37 homes.
Several leaks last year on the Enbridge (ENB.TO)(ENB.N)
pipeline system collectively spilled thousands of barrels of
oil in the Midwest.
(Editing by Dale Hudson)