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Texas watchdog group targets pipeline leaks, Railroad Commission priorities

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Freda Ross

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(Texas News Service) A Texas group is on a mission to reform how the state monitors and repairs oil and gas pipeline leaks.

More than 480,000 miles of pipeline run across the state, carrying everything from oil to natural gas to hazardous liquids.

Executive Director of the group Commission Shift - Virginia Palacios - says people often aren't aware of what lies beneath their neighborhoods, and potentially dangerous pipeline leaks in some areas are going unrepaired.

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"There have been studies showing that the response time of leak complaints can vary depending on someone's neighborhood, their race or their income level," said Palacios. "There's a perception that certain communities aren't safe."

A recent study found that gas leak density in neighborhoods with people of color and lower household incomes is 37 percent higher than in predominantly white neighborhoods.

Current federal standards only require operators to repair leaks if they pose an "immediate safety hazard."

But the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has proposed a new rule to improve the detection and repair of pipeline leaks.

The industry argues that more regulation of things like leaks would make their business less profitable, and limit it's ability to increase employment.

Palacios said finding and repairing the leaks would help reduce smog and combat climate change.

"On a 20-year timeframe, methane is about 87 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a climate 'forcer,'" said Palacios. "So, scientists say that if we reduce methane emissions, that is our greatest hope at reducing rates of warming."

The Railroad Commission of Texas is in charge of pipeline safety in the state. Its mission statement says protecting the environment and preserving property rights are two of its primary responsibilities.

Commission Shift says the Railroad Commission often prioritizes oil and gas development over safety and the environment.