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Your Guide to Pipelines in Pennsylvania

Background

Kim Paynter / WHYY/Newsworks.org

Workers prepare to lay a new Marcellus Shale gas pipeline in Susquehanna County, Pa.

Thousands of miles of new pipelines in Pennsylvania will have to be built to transport Marcellus Shale gas. The new pipeline construction will benefit those in need of jobs, and the companies that do the building. But some residents and local politicians worry about the environmental impacts, and say the current regulatory structure needs updating.

Nobody knows how many miles of pipeline already exists in the state. That’s because Pennsylvania does not have one regulatory authority that oversees intrastate gas pipelines. In fact, out of 31 states that produce natural gas, Alaska is the only other state, besides Pennsylvania, that doesn’t.

Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission does inspect about 46,000 miles of pipelines that are categorized as public utilities. That means those pipelines deliver gas directly to a consumer. The PUC has eight inspectors who enforce both state and federal regulations.

The federal government, through the Department of Transportation, regulates the interstate pipeline system. Those are the pipelines that travel across state boundaries. One example would be the Transcontinental Gas Pipeline, or Transco, which travels from south Texas to the major east coast markets of New Jersey and New York City.

Until recently, thousands of miles of what are called “gathering lines” did not fall under the jurisdiction of the Public Utilities Commission. And the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration did not have the resources to inspect them. PHMSA asked Pennsylvania to broaden the PUC’s jurisdiction to include these lines. That was also one of the recommendations made by the Marcellus Shale Commission.

In December, 2011, Gov. Corbett signed the Gas and Hazardous Liquids Pipeline Act, also known as Act 127, which grants the Public Utilities Commission jurisdiction over most of the state’s 886 miles of intrastate pipelines. Rural pipelines, known as Class 1 are exempt from the PUC’s safety inspections. The PUC has hired five new inspectors and two supervisors. The Commission will also develop a registry of pipelines and their operators in the state.

To build a pipeline, rights of way need to be secured from private and public landowners. The companies pay for those rights of way. Then permits are needed. But a confusing network of regulatory bodies handles the permitting process. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has to approve any interstate pipeline. The Public Utilities Commission has to approve any that serve consumers directly. But few of the new gas lines connected to Marcellus Shale drilling fall neatly into either of those categories.

If the pipeline runs through wetlands or cross waterways, permits are needed from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Also, the DEP has oversight if the pipelines cross through areas with endangered or rare species. Sometimes county, or local, level regulations come into play, but not always. Pennsylvania’s new drilling law, ACT 13, restricted local governments from implementing zoning rules for natural gas development, including pipelines. But that provision is still tied up in the courts.

Latest Posts

New Marcellus Shale gas pipeline proposed for Pa., NJ

The Philadelphia Inquirer has the details on a proposed $1 billion pipeline project to bring natural gas from the Marcellus Shale to customers on the east coast. Wyomissing-based PennEast Pipeline Company said the pipeline would start in Luzerne County and travel about 105 miles to hook up with Transco’s Trenton-Woodbury interconnection in New Jersey. The company [...]

Williams bans pipeline surveyors for trespassing

Lancaster Newspapers reports a crew of pipeline surveyors trespassed on at least five properties in Lancaster County. The surveyors were contractors for the pipeline company Williams, which has now banned the workers from this and all future projects, according to a spokeswoman. Five landowners spoke about the incidents in a press conference last night in Martic [...]

Federal regulator calls public response to gas pipeline ‘unprecedented’

Alisa Lykens has been with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for 24 years and says she’s never seen such a big response to a project so early on in the process. Lykens was at Millersville University in Lancaster County Monday night. It was the first in a series of four meetings hosted by FERC to take [...]

Federal regulators to hold meetings on proposed pipeline

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is planning to hold four public meetings throughout Pennsylvania next week to discuss a proposed expansion of the Transco natural gas pipeline system. FERC regulates interstate pipelines. Last week the agency announced it would conduct an environmental impact statement on the project and is accepting public comments through August 18th. [...]

Pipeline route revised to avoid Lancaster County nature preserves

In response to public criticism, a company seeking to build a new natural gas pipeline through parts of north and central Pennsylvania has proposed changes to part of the route to avoid several nature preserves in Lancaster County. More than 1,000 people turned out to Millersville University Wednesday night for a public meeting hosted by Oklahoma-based Williams Partners. The company [...]

Court rules federal regulators must consider cumulative impacts of pipeline project

Regulators violated federal law by not considering the cumulative environmental impacts of multiple upgrades to a natural gas pipeline that runs from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, a federal appeals court said on Friday. Three environmental groups argued the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) should not have been allowed to conduct an environmental review for one [...]

Gas boom starts to hit home for residents of Southeastern Pa.

In the past few years, the Marcellus Shale has rapidly become one of the most productive gas plays on the planet. But for many people in Southeastern Pennsylvania– the state’s most populated region– the boom has been out-of-sight and out-of-mind. Until now. The region is beginning to experience the tradeoffs long familiar to those who live [...]

Lancaster County residents criticize pipeline proposal

A proposal to build a natural gas pipeline through Lancaster County is angering many residents. It was standing room only as concerned residents packed a public meeting this morning between the county commissioners and the pipeline company, Oklahoma-based Williams Partners. Williams is seeking to transport natural gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale to markets along the [...]

Legislative hearing focuses on expanding state oversight of pipelines

As the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry has grown, so has the need to build pipelines to transport it to markets. Chester County has become a natural nexus for pipelines, due to its proximity to the shale as well as heavily-populated areas along the East Coast. Pennsylvania’s Joint Legislative Conservation Committee held a hearing today [...]

Report: Philadelphia gas utility second worst for pipeline leaks

The private company planning to buy Philadelphia Gas Works has promised to upgrade the city’s aging and leaking pipelines. A new report by SNL Energy shows just how big that task could be, ranking the city’s utility second worst in the nation for pipeline leaks. The firm looked at data from the federal Office of [...]

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