Are Oil Pipelines Safer Now?

NAJMEDIN MESHKATI, professor of civil and environmental engineering:

“Almost all major oil and gas pipeline systems are run by operators who use computer-based workstations in control rooms. According to a major study of pipeline accidents and spills conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board, more than half of such accidents were caused by the operators’ action, reaction or inaction. The computer systems can also contribute to accidents, influencing recovery time or affecting the magnitude.

The most recent natural gas pipeline explosion, in San Bruno, Calif., that killed eight people and destroyed three dozen houses last fall, once more highlighted the critical role of human and organizational factors in the safe and spill-free operation of hazardous liquid and gas transmission pipeline systems. According to the N.T.S.B., it was “an organizational accident” that was primarily caused by “a failure of the entire system.””

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