Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Energy Executive Issues Report On Natural Gas Gathering Lines With Recommendations

On December 11, Patrick Henderson, the Governor’s Energy Executive, issued a report on the 1,727.8 miles of natural gas gathering lines in the Commonwealth making 16 recommendations to tighten regulatory and other requirements over the lines.
The report was required by Act 13 drilling law and was provided to the General Assembly.
The 20-page report provides an overview of gathering lines-- the pipelines which carry natural gas from a production facility (wells) to a transmission line-- current siting considerations, state and federal regulations and laws covering these pipelines and the role of landowners in the siting process.
A state law adopted last year-- Act 127 of 2011-- requires pipeline operators to register their pipelines with the Public Utility Commission which as of October 1 reported 2,535.5 miles of pipelines serving Marcellus Shale (or unconventional gas wells) in the state.  Of these, 1,727.8 miles were gathering lines and 807.7 miles fall under the regulatory jurisdiction of the PUC.
The report pointed out the  PUC does not have legal authority over the siting of natural gas gathering lines.
The report includes 16 recommendations for improving environmental and safety oversight of gathering lines--
-- Legal impediments to the sharing of state and local road rights-of-way with gathering lines should be repealed or modified to encourage the use of existing corridors;
-- The PUC Code should be clarified to say sharing of pipeline capacity should not give a pipeline public utility status;
-- DEP/Corps of Engineers General Permit-4 should be changed to remove existing duplications related to the protection of historic, cultural and natural resources while increasing predictability in planning and permit processing time;
-- DEP should regularly review its Permit Decision Guarantee policy to ensure administratively complete permits are reviewed in a timely manner and consider expedited review for projects which share rights-of-way;
-- The PA Natural Diversity Inventory review tool should be enhanced to assist in up-front avoidance of conflicts with threatened and endangered species;
-- The PA One Call law should be amended to include mandatory participation and registration of all gathering lines;
-- The PUC should work with PA One Call to create a map of gathering lines;
-- County planning offices should work with drilling operators and gathering line companies to under future development plans to maximize opportunities for shared rights-of-way;
-- DEP should adopt environmental review standards for drilling proposals which seek to avoid surface disturbances, impacts on sensitive lands, forest fragmentation, viewsheds and direct intersection with waterways;
-- Pipeline operators should collaborate to standardize right-of-way markers;
-- Landowner outreach efforts, such as through county extension offices, should expand landowner awareness of standard terms and conditions and other important information related to leasing pipeline rights-of-way;
-- County and municipal governments should be encouraged to consult with gathering line operators to better understand the implications of a proposed project on local comprehensive plans;
-- The PUC and DEP should continue their efforts to coordinate and provide public outreach to further citizens’ understanding of the roles each agencies plan in the permitting of gathering lines;
-- The Governor’s Center for Local Government Services, along with the PUC and DEP, should work with local government associations to assist in disseminating information on the laws and requirements covering gathering lines.
-- Pipeline operators should be encouraged to consult with the appropriate experts to replant rights-of-way with vegetation that fosters habitat development for wildlife; and
-- Consideration should be given to using existing or new pipeline pathways nearing existing or potential industrial development to maximize job creation, lower energy costs and secure the nation’s energy independence.
A copy of the report is available online.

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