Bilirakis requests pipeline hearings

He says he is bothered by the responses of two federal agencies to an ammonia leak.

By JUSTIN GEORGE, Times Staff Writer
Published January 24, 2008

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis has requested a congressional hearing on pipeline security after a November breach released toxic ammonia gas and forced hundreds to evacuate an east Hillsborough County neighborhood.

In a letter Wednesday to the chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection, Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, said the federal Transportation and Homeland Security departments' responses to the incident troubled him.

A teenager drilled through the pipeline Nov. 12, causing ammonia gas to leak out until Nov. 14. The boy said he heard a section of the 30-mile anhydrous ammonia pipeline crossing the Alafia River contained money.

The federal Transportation Department is charged with pipeline safety while the Homeland Security Department oversees pipeline security, Bilirakis said. He is a member of the Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas.

The subcommittee is part of the Committee on Homeland Security.

"Media reports indicated that both agencies failed to provide clear explanations about which agency should be responsible for an incident of this nature," Bilirakis wrote, "and whether federal pipeline security requirements are adequate to stop acts of vandalism such as this, or worse, deliberate acts of terrorism against pipelines, which federal warnings about al-Qaidahave specifically mentioned as terrorist targets."

He said each agency's roles and responsibilities need to be examined. With hundreds of miles of pipes carrying oil, gas and jet fuel in the Tampa Bay area, Bilirakis called the pipeline breach and response a wakeup call.

Justin George can be reached at 813 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.