For decades, pipelines have been built in the United States without much controversy. The result: 2.5 million miles of pipelines now traverse our nation to deliver natural gas, oil and other hazardous liquids to their destinations.1 Aside from well-publicized ruptures like the San Bruno, California natural gas explosion that took eight lives in 2010, the Kalamazoo Enbridge tar sands spill that occurred in the same year, and the recent Mayflower, Arkansas, spill that coated suburban play sets in oil, it would, at first glance, appear that our nation’s pipelines are extremely safe, that spills are a rarity. However, a closer look reveals that spills are all too common—in 2011 alone there were over 1,000 spills from pipelines.3 Such a high number of spills year after year and the high consequence locations in which many of these spills occur have caused pipeline safety watchdogs and the National Transportation Safety Board to take a hard look at pipeline regulations and push for higher standards.4 The overwhelming implication in their reports is that federal regulations are not enough to reduce pipeline risk.5
But the idea that pipelines are sufficiently regulated is one that the pipeline industry works hard to legitimize—according to the Association of Oil Pipelines, “Liquid pipelines operate under many layers of protection. Federal and state laws, rules and regulations, regulators and operators all work to keep pipelines safe.”2 While pipeline companies tout their goals for zero spills and claim that regulations are more than sufficient, it is clear that in reality; much more can be done to improve the safety of pipelines.