Pennsylvania Takes Steps to Strengthen Gas Liquids Pipeline Safety Rules

The PUC on June 13 announced it is considering two separate rule-making proposals involving safety of pipelines carrying petroleum products and other hazardous materials.

The first is seeking public comment on an advance notice of rulemaking order to be considered in making potential changes to comprehensive safety regulations. The areas that may be addressed include a number of subjects that were problems with the Mariner East II pipeline, which was built across the state, but also resulted in spills, water damage, several shutdowns, and fines.

The second proposal would require that pipeline public utilities would be required to file annual reports of a pipeline’s service life, capital investment plans and other financial reports.

Regulation and Oversight of Pipelines Carrying Natural Gas Liquids

Regulators and legislators are taking a new look at regulation of the pipelines that carry highly valuable gas liquids from the fracking fields of North America to the processing facilities and refineries that convert these liquids into plastics, fuels, and chemical products.

Report Finds Devaluation of Homes Near Pipelines

A recent study indicates that homes built near and around pipelines face potential devaluation. Published in the journal Resource and Energy Economics, the study entitled Shale gas transmission and housing prices used real estate data in New York State to study the correlation between home values and pipeline infrastructure. The researchers chose New York as it is home to the Constitution Pipeline, a 125 mile long pipeline which transports natural gas from the Marcellus Shale basin in Pennsylvania to Albany, New York. Their work was extensive, but the most interesting conclusion stemmed from their comparison between home values pre-announcement of the Constitution Pipeline and post-announcement. Though they found from previous research that home values in the area were increasing pre-announcement, the trend was reversed post-announcement.

API Report Shows Decrease in Pipeline Incidents while Productivity Rise

The American Petroleum Institute has released their Liquids Pipeline Performance Report, tracking various metrics related to oil and natural gas pipelines over the past five years. Using data provided by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the report’s findings indicates a positive trend in production, while incidents have fallen. Pipeline safety is an ever-salient topic in the minds of Pennsylvanians. As natural gas development continues to sweep across the Commonwealth, many residents have developed a fear of the industry, especially pipelines. Their fears are not unwarranted, however.

AG Shapiro, PA Attorney General’s Office Launch Criminal Investigation against ME Pipelines

Those who follow natural gas development, or have watched the evening news in the past two years know of Sunoco’s Mariner East pipeline projects as one of the controversial endeavors in the state. The three Mariner East pipelines, the Mariner East 1, 2 and 2x, are a hotbed of disputes with nearly a hundred regulatory violations piling up amongst the trio. Now, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro is stepping in to assist Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun Copeland in her office’s investigation into the pipelines. The investigation is into any criminal actions that Sunoco or parent company Energy Transfer LP has committed. State representatives have commented on the investigation, one stating that Sunoco’s ongoing operation of the Mariner East pipelines without an emergency plan in place is “risking catastrophe, which is a criminal offense”.

Rice Midstream, now Equitrans, Hit with $1.5M Fine for Pipeline Issues

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is continuing to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for their errors and shortcomings. Their fine levied against Rice Midstream Holdings is one of the most recent examples of such enforcement of the law. The DEP enforces numerous laws and guidelines for construction operations pertaining to maintaining water and soil quality and mitigating any negative effects of construction. Pipeline development can cause copious amounts of environmental issues if the proper legally mandated precautions and standards are not maintained.  In fact, oil and gas companies must acknowledge the law to receive the proper permits to begin pipeline development. In 2017, Pittsburgh-based Rice Midstream operated a construction site in Greene County, PA, where the development of the Beta Trunk natural gas pipeline was underway.

ME2 to Begin Operations Again after Chester County Water Controversy

Natural gas drilling will likely resume in Chester County in the very near future. Energy Transfer LP, the parent company of Sunoco and owner and operator of the ever-controversial Mariner East pipeline projects have recently made their plan to restart the drilling portion of their operation in the Chester County area after they left as many as fifteen households waterless by damaging a local aquifer. The incident began in the summer of 2017 when residents of Whiteland Township who use well water reported that their tap water was cloudy, according to NPR’s State Impact. After an investigation, it was determined that the cause of the cloudy water was a break in the aquifer that supplied the well water as a result of Sunoco’s drilling and pipeline construction. Sunoco halted all operations in July of 2017 and has remained inactive in the area ever since.

Pittsburgh Based Pipeline Company Subpoenaed by Feds

The United States Attorney’s Office is investigating the Mountain Valley Pipeline project. The Mountain Valley Pipeline is jointly owned by NextEra US Gas Assets, LLC, Con Edison Transmission, Inc., WGL Midstream, RGC Midstream, LLC, and Pittsburgh-based EQM Midstream Partners, LP. The pipeline is currently under construction and is scheduled for completion by the end of 2019, according to the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s website. The 42-inch in diameter pipeline will span approximately 303 miles from Wetzel County, West Virginia to Pittsylvania County, Virginia. It is an extension of the existing Equitrans transmission line, connecting it to a compressor station in Virginia owned by Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Company.

PA PUC Plans to Bolster Pipeline Safety

Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission Chairman Gladys Brown is requesting more state and federal dollars to ramp up pipeline safety efforts. In a testimony made before the Pennsylvania Senate Appropriations Committee, Chairman Brown requested $81.08 million in funding for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, an increase of $1.36 million from the previous fiscal year. In her testimony, Chairman Brown stated her intent to bolster natural gas pipeline safety through the hiring of at least four additional natural gas safety inspectors to the current roster of fifteen inspectors. Currently, these fifteen natural gas safety inspectors bear the responsibility of monitoring 48,100 miles of distribution and transmission lines in the Commonwealth. Of the 47,000 miles of distribution line, Chairman Brown notes that 11,000 miles of the pipeline are of “at-risk” status, meaning they are “comprised of unprotected steel and cast-iron lines”.

Bipartisan Pipeline Safety Bills Receive Governor’s Support

Oil and gas pipeline safety has been at the forefront of many Pennsylvanian’s minds. Recent events such as multiple pipeline explosions and the various safety-related closures of major pipeline operations that span the Commonwealth have left citizens yearning for legislators to act. The call for action has reached the Governor’s Mansion, with Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf showing support of a group of bills that have been in the legislature for some time. The twelve bills referenced span many areas of pipeline development, which Governor Wolf says will help close “gaps” in the current law that have been exploited by oil and gas companies. StateImpact reports that such proposed laws include mandatory disclosure of pipelines built within 1,000 feet of schools, coordination between pipeline developers and local first responders, and shutoff valves in “high-consequence” areas.