Regulating Pennsylvania pipelines: Whose job is it?

By Candy Woodall, The Patriot News

There are thousands of miles of pipelines moving through Pennsylvania, but no state or federal agency seems to have a single comprehensive list of how many or specifically where they are located.

The state Department of Environmental Protection doesn’t have a list like that, though it does have a comprehensive map of gas wells in the commonwealth.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has a list of Act 127 (non-public utility) pipeline operators from 2011 through 2013 that includes more than 13,000 miles of existing natural gas lines and those carrying hazardous materials through the state.

But it doesn’t include planned or inactive pipelines that are being designed to carry Marcellus Shale gases from southwestern Pennsylvania to other parts of the northeast.

For example, Sunoco Logistics, which has been considered as a public utility for decades, is not on the list through 2013 because it is not an Act 127 pipeline. But information about it can be found on the PUC website, said commission spokeswoman Robin Tilley.

An updated list of Act 127 pipeline operators through 2014 should be available in March, but even then would not reflect information about any pending construction plans, since Act 127 only requires pipelines to be registered with the PUC once they are operational, she said.

Sunoco Logistics last year announced it would build a $2.5 billion pipeline, spanning 350 miles and cutting through 14 counties in southern Pennsylvania.

The new pipeline, Mariner East 2, will move parallel to the Philadelphia-based company’s existing Mariner East 1, carrying butane, propane, ethane and other gases from the Marcellus Shale to its Marcus Hook storage and distribution center near the Delaware River.

“The PUC knows where the pipelines are that we regulate,” Tilley said Tuesday.

The PUC has jurisdiction over both pipeline public utilities, including Sunoco, as well as natural gas distribution utilities.

Pipeline public utilities can be searched for by name on the PUC website here.

A list of natural gas distribution companies/utilities is found here.

The PUC has a team of gas safety inspectors that perform routine inspections, Tilley said.

Those inspections can happen at any time, and inspectors are especially involved with pipeline public utilities during the construction phase and making sure workers are certified, she said.

“Our inspectors inspect the companies, not every inch of actual pipeline, to clarify,” Tilley said in an email.

And if it’s an interstate pipeline, meaning it moves out of Pennsylvania, the PUC doesn’t have jurisdiction over the line.

The DEP doesn’t oversee it either.

Interstate pipelines are monitored by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Sunoco’s Mariner East pipelines are both intrastate and interstate – which means the PUC has dual jurisdiction with PHMSA.

“In cases like these, PHMSA inspects those pipelines anyway, and we allocate our resources elsewhere to inspect public utilities and intrastate pipelines under solely our jurisdiction,” Tilley said.

While some spokesmen and spokeswomen for federal agencies invited questions about regulatory issues, none of them responded to multiple emails and phone calls with questions.

Several questions were asked: Should there be a single agency monitoring all lines to better protect state residents? What is your agency’s role in monitoring pipelines? Many local residents are concerned about ethane moving through pipes in their backyards. What should they know about ethane? How do pipelines carrying shale gases differ, if at all, from traditional natural gas lines of companies heating homes? Do you have an updated map of all pipelines moving through Pennsylvania to other states you can share? Who is ultimately responsible for overseeing the protection of local residents and the environment as these new pipelines are being built?

The state DEP is responsible for issuing permits to pipeline builders for earth-moving and any construction crossing streams and wetlands, said spokesman Eric Shirk.

“Everything else goes through the PUC, PHMSA and the U.S. Department of Transportation,” he said.

DEP has “sufficient communication” and works with the PUC and alerts the commission “if we see issues,” Shirk said.

“Our priority is to protect the environment,” he said.

But the agency does not have any maps of pipelines moving through Pennsylvania, just gas wells, Shirk said.

“We know some about certain pipelines and a lot of other agencies know about others, but we don’t have a comprehensive map. I don’t know that anyone would,” he said.

Other questions, such as how the DEP can protect the state environment if it doesn’t have a comprehensive list of proposed or existing pipelines moving through the state, were referred to Gov. Tom Wolf’s office.

When asked if John Quigley, the new acting secretary of DEP, would take a closer look at pipelines moving through the state, Wolf spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan said, “Protecting Pennsylvania’s environment and the health of our residents is a priority for Governor Wolf. He will work with acting Secretary Quiqley to review existing regulations to see what can be improved at the state level.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s