BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The Obama administration moved Wednesday to significantly expand a requirement for utilities to install inexpensive safety valves on natural gas lines across the U.S. to reduce the risk of deadly explosions.
The Transportation Department proposal would cover new or replaced gas lines serving multi-family dwellings, small businesses and homes not already covered under a 2009 mandate.
The National Transportation Safety Board and other safety advocates have pressed for years to broaden requirements for so-called excess flow valves. They cost about $30 apiece and are designed to automatically shut off the flow of gas when a line is ruptured.
An Associated Press investigation in 2012 uncovered more than 270 accidents dating to 1968 that could have been prevented or made less dangerous if the valves had been in place.
“This important action will add extra protections to communities serviced by the nation’s largest network of pipelines,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.
About 180,000 automatic valves would be installed annually under the rule, according to the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
Manual valves would be required for apartment buildings and large commercial or residential gas customers.
Installing the valves on new and replaced lines should cost between $4.4 million and $20.3 million per year, depending on the price of the valves, the agency said.
Federal transportation officials say the valves could have averted at least eight accidents that killed 10 people since 1998. They said the valves can also help reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that are contributing to climate change.
Industry officials have previously raised concerns about the cost of valve installation, particularly for larger gas lines that require more specialized valves.
The Transportation Department rule would allow customers to request the safety valves for the tens of millions of gas lines already installed across the U.S., but does not specify who would pay for their installation.
The proposal will be subject to a public comment period of at least 60 days. Federal officials said the rule could change based on the information received. No date for final adoption was offered.
Burke reported from San Francisco.