Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Conventional Gas Drillers: We Can’t Afford To Protect Public, Workers From Our Pipelines Exploding; 100,000 Miles Of Their Pipelines Not Mapped

Representatives of the PA Grade Crude Oil Coalition of conventional oil/gas drillers told the House Consumer Affairs Committee Monday they cannot afford the cost of reporting the locations of their natural gas pipelines to PA One Call to prevent pipeline explosions and deaths.  100,000 miles of their pipelines are not mapped to prevent accidental hits by construction equipment.
“We don’t have staff, we don’t have money, we don’t have the resources to send,” the Coalition’s Wally Phillips said.
PA One Call is a service to contractors who want to locate utilities and natural gas pipelines prior to digging foundations or other excavations that might hit those lines and cause service interruptions or explosions and death or injuries.
The conventional drillers support the current exemption in the law for conventional gas drillers and oppose House Bill 284 (Baker-R-Tioga) and Senate Bill 242 (Baker-R-Luzerne) that would add natural gas gathering lines to the PA One Call Program.
The Coalition recommended a cost/benefit study be conducted to determine the cost of adding the conventional natural gas pipelines.
Sen. Lisa Baker noted in a background memo when her bill was introduced there are more than 6,000 incidents of striking utility lines every year, with approximately half involving natural gas lines because facility owners do not join the PA One Call program or for other reasons.
“All of these instances jeopardize public safety, place workers at risk, compromise infrastructure, trigger outages, generate environmental hazards and cost consumers, businesses, and utilities time and money,” said Sen. Baker.  “Preventing this unnecessary damage will increase public safety and reduce costs.”
Michael Gavin, EQT, a Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling company, said they fully support eliminating the exemption and adding all natural gas lines.
He pointed out their company alone experiences 50 instances a year where contractors are uncovering unmarked, conventional gas lines and in one case in Armstrong County, a pipeline exploded and caused a fatality.  
Gavin said this is not only an issue for workers and the public, it is also a concern for the people responding to these incidents.
He said there is technology available to locate the conventional natural gas lines and conventional well owners should want to joint PA One Call because it’s their liability that is on the line.
Gavin explained that EQT is already participating in PA One Call.
Danny Cote, Columbia Gas, said there are as many as 100,000 miles of natural gas lines in Pennsylvania that have not been mapped.  These are pipelines that can explode and hurt people or kill people, he said, and that’s why this legislation is needed.
He noted a majority of states mandate membership without exception, especially for unconventional natural gas gathering.  Any exemptions, he said, leave the public and the people that work on and around these pipelines vulnerable to explosions.
Terry Fitzpatrick, Energy Association of PA, said he is not aware of any natural gas distribution company in Pennsylvania that does not support including all natural gas pipelines in the PA One Call system.
John Coleman, Commissioner, Public Utility Commission, said there should be no exemptions for natural gas pipelines, noting there is not a lot of information on accidents involving conventional natural gas pipelines because they are not required to report hits, explosions or deaths.
Williams Boswell, PA One Call System, said all exemptions in the present law should go away for the simple reason a contractor does not care what class of pipeline is in the area he plans to dig, only that he wants to do it safely and without injuries or deaths.  “We need to fix it now,” he said.
Boswell disagreed with arguments that it is difficult to get mapping, noting his office has helped companies get maps into the system at no cost. He indicated nearly any file type can be imported into the system. Boswell agreed, if the company does not have the technical expertise, the system will help them at no cost.
Representatives of the Department of Labor and Industry, Verizon, the PA Telephone Association and the Broadband Cable Association of PA all provide comments to the Committee.
Additional written testimony was provided by the Marcellus Shale Coalition and the American Society of Civil Engineers.
PA One Call expires in December without action by the General Assembly.
Click Here to watch a video of the hearing.
Rep. Robert Godshall (R-Montgomery) series as Majority Chair of the Committee, and can be contacted by sending email to: rgodshal@pahousegop.com.  Rep. Thomas Caltagirone (D-Berks) serves as the Minority Chair of the Committee and can be contacted by sending email to: Rep.Caltagirone@pahouse.net.
(Photo: An example of what can happen when a backhoe hits a natural gas pipeline.)
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