Does Info on Pipeline Hazards Belong to Public They Endanger?

July 17, 2013

A doughty, Pulitzer-winning publication is insisting the public has a right to know when pipeline companies are profiting by endangering people's lives, health, and property. Imagine.

InsideClimate News is pushing back against oil companies and federal regulators who say reports on pipeline flaws and hazards are trade secrets. The online publication has formally asked the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) for metallurgy reports related to the messy March 2013 Exxon pipeline rupture in Mayflower, Arkansas. InsideClimate has also filed a FOIA request for other documents related to PHMSA's spill investigation.

InsideClimate reporters Elizabeth Douglass and David Hasemyer say the answers could have nationwide implications — because the Mayflower rupture may have been caused by flaws common to many of the nation's aging pipelines. Without public knowledge of such flaws and the threats they present, there will be little pressure to fix them.

InsideClimate is almost alone (a notable exception being ProPublica) among U.S. news media in its persistent, in-depth coverage of pipeline safety. That may be enough to have invited a media assault from the Koch brothers' industrial conglomerate and its related PR apparatus. When InsideClimate reported on Koch Industries' interests in the pipeline industry, Koch responded with an ad campaign personally attacking InsideClimate publisher David Sassoon.