Monday, September 24, 2018

Op-Ed: How PA Leaders Can Help Prevent Another Major Gas Pipeline Explosion

By: Andrew Williams, Environmental Defense Fund

The follow op-ed was published on Monday dealing with the September 10 natural gas pipeline explosion in Beaver County.

Residents of Ivy Lane in Center Township in Beaver County, Pa., awoke on Sept. 10 to a deafening boom and fireball that lit up the dawn sky.
Residents of Ivy Lane in Center Township in Beaver County, Pa., awoke on Sept. 10 to a deafening boom and fireball that lit up the dawn sky.
Equally important is addressing pipeline safety before a pipeline is even built.
We need to forge bipartisan support in the state Legislature for a better plan for natural gas infrastructure development that will lower the potential for catastrophic events.
A co-sponsorship memo recently circulated by state Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, charts a sensible course that supports the state Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) permitting authority over new lines.
Improving pipeline oversight is critically important. As the development of natural gas grows exponentially across the U.S., so has the network of onshore gas gathering lines.
The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) estimates that it regulates only 11,000 out of the more than 250,000 miles of onshore gas gathering lines as of 2016. Mileage of onshore gas gathering lines is rapidly expanding with sizable new capacity being added every year.
Pipelines today aren't just more plentiful, they are also much larger and carry a greater volume of high pressured gas. According to the federal government, the expansion of natural gas drilling is leading to new gathering lines with diameters exceeding that of traditionally larger transmission lines.
The 24-inch ETP pipeline that exploded just off Ivy Lane is one of these larger gathering lines.
But because these rural gathering lines are not being regulated, states and communities lack data regarding where they are, and the risks they present. As one example, PHMSA does not collect incident data or report the number and consequences of major events like last week's explosion.
PHMSA proposed a rulemaking for pipeline safety in 2016 but progress has been slow, and the PUC has not stepped in to fill the gap.
In lieu of federal regulations, the American Petroleum Institute initiated a voluntary effort to address pipeline risk. Unfortunately, that effort is failing, in part due to operators who cannot identify the locations of all gathering lines under management.
While there are many responsible operators who support enhanced safety standards and regulation, it appears that they are being drowned out by those that do not. Pennsylvania must do more to improve oversight of these pipelines because inaction could be deadly.
Last year in Colorado, a tragic and deadly home explosion caused by a poorly managed gas line pushed the state to start requiring operators to report their pipeline locations. At a minimum, Pennsylvania should enact similar measures.
Gov. Tom Wolf has already recognized the need to address harmful impacts of natural gas development, as his administration recently finalized controls that will reduce methane leaks and emissions from new and modified natural gas infrastructure, protections which should soon extend to existing sources of natural gas infrastructure in the state.
The Wolf administration would also be well served to echo Colorado's call for critical safety information for the gathering line network.
Routine inspection and integrity management rules of these pipelines should be the goal. Disclosure represents the first, measured, essential step toward standards that keep pace with new technologies, new pipelines, and new risks.
(Photo: Beaver County pipeline explosion site, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)

Andrew Williams is Director of Regulatory and Legislative Affairs for the Environmental Defense Fund. Click Here to contact him.
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