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The U.S. Senate passed a bill on Monday to toughen federal safety regulation of oil and gas pipelines. The bill is an attempt to close gaps in federal safety regulations exposed by a deadly gas pipeline rupture in San Bruno, California last year.  Other recent gas explosions and oil pipeline spills also prompted the Senate to act quickly. It would authorize more federal safety inspectors, increase penalties for violations and require pipeline companies to verify their records on pipelines’ physical and operational characteristics and establish maximum operating pressures based on the verified information.

Under the bill, federal regulators could order that automatic shutoff valves be installed on new pipelines so leaks can be halted sooner. And it directs regulators to determine whether mandatory inspections of aging pipelines in densely populated areas should be expanded to include lines in rural areas. It would be paid for by industry fees.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved the bill in May without opposition. The bill is supported by the industry’s major trade associations — the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, the American Gas Association and the Association of Oil Pipelines — as well as the Pipeline Safety Trust, a safety advocacy group. (The Associated Press, Wash Post, 10/17/2011)