Thursday, February 25, 2016

PUC Asks For Increased Funding For More Rail, Pipeline Inspectors

Appearing before the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday, Public Utility Commission Chair Gladys Brown said the PUC’s FY 2016-17 budget request includes the hiring of two additional rail safety inspectors and two additional pipeline inspectors, but not an increase in overall PUC complement.
“Pennsylvania’s growth as an energy hub is driving a series of interrelated issues across the state,” said Brown.  “For instance, the PUC is witnessing a growing demand for access to gas. In response, over the past two years the PUC has approved pilot projects for seven natural gas distribution companies. These pilots are aimed at reducing costs and providing alternative financing mechanisms for the extension of gas service to homes and businesses.
“There is no doubt that a growing list of Pennsylvanians want access to low cost natural gas – and they want it sooner rather than later – but we cannot overlook the importance of replacing old leak-prone and possibly corroded lines as quickly as possible,” explained Brown. “The Commission continues to push for rapid replacement of aging natural gas infrastructure, especially in Philadelphia and other older service areas, where thousands of miles of old cast iron and unprotected steel lines are considered “at risk.”
“Just last month the PUC approved a mechanism to expedite Philadelphia Gas Works pipeline replacement plan significantly, from 86 years to approximately 55 years. On a dollar basis, companies like UGI Gas and Columbia have increased expenditures on pipeline replacement by more than 100 percent since 2010. These companies are now on pace to replace all at-risk pipe by 28 and 14 years respectively.
“Currently, the PUC has 15 gas safety inspectors who are responsible for inspecting 46,000 miles of distribution pipeline, 3,000 miles of transmission pipeline, and 1,300 of Act 127 non-jurisdictional pipeline,” said Brown.  “I am proud to convey that last year the PUC received the results of a 2014 PHMSA performance evaluation. PHMSA gave the PUC a perfect score in its evaluation of our enforcement of federal pipeline safety regulations.
“These results will help bolster our case for continued federal funding. However, as I noted earlier in my remarks, our budget includes the proposed hiring of two additional gas safety inspectors to assist with our efforts to effectively monitor the safety of this burgeoning industry.
“The PUC continues to promote enhancements to the PA One Call programs, aimed at reducing the number of “hits” on underground lines. These hits are a threat to the safety of workers and bystanders, and can impact the cost and reliability of utility service.
“We believe that the transfer of enforcement authority from the Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) to the PUC will increase enforcement of PA One Call, curb the number of underground line hits, improve public safety, and reduce costs associated with line hits for utilities, excavators and ultimately utility customers.
“I encourage you to support these PA One Call legislative initiatives, which are contained in House Bill 445 (R-Bradford), as well as the inclusion of an amendment to remove the exemption related to crude oil or natural gas production and gathering lines, or facilities associated with conventional oil and gas wells.
“The flow of resources used to produce energy across Pennsylvania is not just occurring by pipeline, but also by rail – something that is a concern for communities across our state, for you, and for the PUC.
“Approximately 70 trains cross through Pennsylvania each week carrying millions of gallons of Bakken Shale crude oil. Working in partnership with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), PUC rail safety inspectors work to ensure the safe movement of trains throughout the state by checking tracks, equipment, operating practices, signals, grade crossings and the handling of hazardous materials.
“Currently, we have eight rail safety inspectors (one vacancy) responsible for 5,600 miles of railways located in the Commonwealth.
“Over this past year, we have worked to fill vacancies in our rail safety inspection unit, and the budget request before you includes the hiring of two additional inspectors – increasing our complement by 25 percent and going beyond recommendations included in the Governor’s August 2015 Assessment of Crude By Rail Safety Issues in Commonwealth of Pennsylvania report.
“Our goal, working with FRA, is to ensure that our rail network is safe for transporting all cargoes – from crude oil to people – so communities and industries across the state can continue to benefit from the positive economic impact that rail transportation provides.”
A copy of the PUC’s written testimony is available online.   Click Here for videos of  House budget hearings.
Here are the major budget documents from the Governor’s Budget Office--
-- FY 2016-17 Line-Item Spreadsheet
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Analysis: PA Isn’t Cleaning Up Our Rivers, Abandoned Mines Quickly Enough

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