Pipeline safety chief defends agency amid spills

Quarterman said that last month a field inspection of Exxon’s Silvertip line – which included review of Exxon’s 2009 internal inspection data – showed no violations. But she acknowledged that the review of Exxon’s data “did show one pipeline anomaly at the river crossing.”

“However, that anomaly was below the required repair conditions under the pipeline safety regulations,” she said in testimony to the Senate panel.

Baucus, who heads the Environment committee’s transportation and infrastructure panel, criticized Quarterman at the hearing Wednesday.

“To be honest ma’am, it seems like you are not really on top of this,” he said, later adding, “Your agency made a mistake: It was wrong, about the integrity of the [Exxon] pipeline.”

More broadly, Quarterman defended her agency's work to ensure safety, noting that the agency is in the middle of a rulemaking to bolster hazardous liquids pipeline rules and will soon begin a rulemaking process for gas transmission pipelines.

A string of accidents has put a spotlight on pipeline safety.

In addition to the recent Exxon spill of an estimated 42,000 gallons, an Enbridge pipeline spilled roughly 800,000 gallons into the Kalamazoo River last summer, and a September gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, Calif., killed eight people.

A Keystone oil pipeline has suffered leaks in Kansas and North Dakota this year.