Energy. Environment. Economy.


A natural gas pipeline in Lycoming County.

Your Guide to Pipelines


Kim Paynter / WHYY/

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

DEP holds public hearing on natural gas liquids pipeline

The state Department of Environmental Protection held a public hearing Tuesday night in Lebanon to discuss infrastructure related to a interstate natural gas liquids pipeline. Philadelphia-based Sunoco Logistics is re-purposing an existing line to ship natural gas liquids, such as propane and ethane, from western Pennsylvania to the Marcus Hook refinery in Philadelphia. The so-called [...]

Sunoco to host public forums on Mariner East 2 pipeline

Philadelphia-based Sunoco Logistics is hosting a pair of open houses in central Pennsylvania this week to discuss its proposed Mariner East 2 pipeline project. The 350-mile, $2.5 billion pipeline would move natural gas liquids, like ethane and propane, across the southern part of the state. Pending state and federal approvals, it would come online in 2016. [...]

Backers tout economic impact of PennEast pipeline

A marker shows the path of the Texas Eastern Pipeline as it a field in Lambertville, New Jersey. It is one of several natural gas pipelines buried under farms, forests, backyards and waterways in the region. A new study commissioned by the consortium of companies behind the PennEast pipeline finds it would generate $1.62 billion [...]

Lancaster County pipeline protesters plead guilty to trespassing

Eight protesters who were arrested for opposing an interstate natural gas pipeline in Lancaster County pleaded guilty to trespassing Thursday and each paid a $100 fine. The demonstrators were arrested January 5th after they linked arms and refused to leave a site where Oklahoma-based Williams was doing testing for its proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline. The protesters [...]

UGI to host public meetings on Sunbury pipeline

UGI Energy Services will hold two public meetings this month on a proposed 20-inch, 35-mile natural gas pipeline. If approved by federal regulators, the Sunbury Pipeline would begin in Lycoming County and end at a proposed natural gas-fired power plant near Shamokin Dam, in Snyder County. The $150 million project comes amid a flurry of other pipelines in Pennsylvania, [...]

Obama says he will veto bill to fast track pipeline permits

A bill that would set a strict deadline for approving new pipeline project applications was voted out of a House committee on Tuesday but President Obama says he will veto it if it reaches his desk. Industry groups are pushing for the “Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act,” (HR 161), which is sponsored by Kansas [...]

Company wants to drop charges against 8 pipeline protestors

Lancaster Online reports PPL, the utility company that owns the property where eight pipeline protestors were arrested last week wants the charges to be dropped. They were part of a group of about 40 demonstrators who temporarily shut down a testing site for the proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline. More from Lancaster Online: “It was not PPL’s request [...]

Federal regulators schedule hearings on PennEast pipeline

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has scheduled five public hearings on the PennEast Pipeline as it prepares to draft a statement on the potential environmental impacts of the project. The hearings are part of what FERC calls the “scoping process” and will give members of the public a forum to tell regulators what should [...]

Local resolutions oppose PennEast pipeline, but have no legal teeth

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania A natural gas pipeline in Lycoming County. Officials in Dallas Township, where a proposed interstate Marcellus Shale gas pipeline is expected to start, have passed a resolution objecting the project. Dallas joins several other municipalities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey in formally opposing the PennEast Pipeline, which would cross the Susquehanna and [...]

8 protestors arrested at pipeline testing site in Lancaster County

Eight protestors were arrested Monday morning at a pipeline testing site in Lancaster County, police have confirmed. The demonstrators included local residents opposing the proposed Atlantic Sunrise project and members of a Native American tribe who claim the pipeline company is improperly drilling test bores on sacred grounds in Conestoga Township. More from Lancaster Online, [...]

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »