Government Secrecy Over Pipeline Location, Regulatory Neglect Challenged

September 22, 2010

U.S. homeowners have a right to know if there is a sex offender next door or if there is lead paint in a house they are buying. But if they want to know whether their house is on top of a dangerous gas pipeline like the one that killed at least four people in San Bruno, Calif., September 9, 2010, the federal government refuses to tell them.

The feds say they want to keep the data from terrorists, but that claim is hard to take seriously. Terrorists can buy better pipeline maps than the feds have for a few hundred dollars from private companies who ask no questions. Most telling is that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration withholds data about pipeline condition and inspections. That means the public will not know about lax regulation and lack of safety inspections by federal and state agencies supposedly responsible for public safety. And it means pipeline explosions caused by preventable and fixable corrosion are far more likely to kill Americans than any caused by terrorists.

Associated Press investigative reporters sought PHMSA pipeline location and inspection records after the San Bruno explosion, which destroyed some 40 houses, but were turned down. The result was a major story calling attention to government secrecy that seems to endanger the public far more than it protects them.