Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Topics

Crews from weld a pipeline connecting to a natural gas well in the Loyalsock State Forest.

Your guide to pipelines

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 Energy Information Administration says that about 4,600 miles of new interstate pipelines could be completed by 2018. That’s on top of the 6,800 miles of existing pipelines as of April, 2014.

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.

In 2011, Pennsylvania lawmakers did approve Act 127. Gov. Corbett signed the Gas and Hazardous Liquids Pipeline Act, which made some changes to how pipelines are regulated. Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission was given authority to do safety inspections over what are called gathering lines, these are the pipelines that deliver natural gas from the wellhead, to larger intrastate, or interstate pipelines. Gathering lines are classified based on the population density of the area in which they are built. The PUC has jurisdiction over class 2, 3, and 4, which include about 1200 miles of pipe.

As an example, class 2 lines encompass any pipelines that are constructed in an area populated by more than 11 buildings designed for human occupancy within one square mile. In reality, these inspections are confined to paperwork, such as checking on a welder’s certification during construction.

Class 1 lines are in the most rural areas, (less than 10 buildings per square mile) and do not fall under any local, state or federal jurisdiction. Class 1 gathering lines encompass the bulk of the gathering pipelines. The PUC estimates that Pennsylvania has about 12,000 miles of these unregulated pipelines.

In addition to the intrastate, interstate and gathering lines, there’s another undefined category called “production pipes,” which may be constructed from the wellhead to a gathering line. The PUC has no information on these lines.

According to federal regulations, pipeline companies only have to notify the PUC if the pipeline is longer than 10 miles, or cost more than $10 million to install.

The PUC has 13 inspectors for about 46,000 miles of pipelines that are categorized as public utilities. Both the PUC and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency have to be notified within an hour if an incident occurs. But when it comes to class 1 pipelines, notification requirements only kick in if there’s a death or injury. And in that case, the company would contact the state fire marshal.

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.

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 was struck down by the state Supreme Court.

Still, when it comes to building new, larger, interstate pipelines, FERC holds the power. This has led several communities to attempt to ban pipeline construction, or the accompanying compressor stations used to move the gas through the lines. The Wolf Administration has said it wants form a pipeline task force, which would allow state regulators to sit down at the table with pipeline companies and attempt some kind of coordination. But beyond the limited permits to cross waterways, the state has no authority.

Latest Posts

Sunoco seeks to calm fears of Mariner East pipeline project in Chester County

Sunoco Logistics took its pipeline-promotion show on the road to Chester County on Monday, seeking to calm residents’ concerns surrounding the construction of a of a major new natural gas liquids pipeline from the Marcellus Shale of southwestern Pennsylvania to a processing plant at Marcus Hook near Philadelphia. Company officials sought to offset fears over [...]

Sunoco to host public forums on Mariner East 2 pipeline in southeast Pa.

Courtesy: Sunoco Logistics Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East 2 project involves constructing two new pipelines parallel to their predecessor, Mariner East 1. The pipelines will carry natural gas liquids such as propane and ethane. Philadelphia-based Sunoco Logistics will host two public forums in southeast Pennsylvania this week to discuss its proposed Mariner East 2 pipeline project. [...]

New pipeline could mean tax bonanza for NJ towns, but for Pa.? Not so much

As Republican legislative leaders and the natural gas industry unite to beat back Gov. Tom Wolf’s severance tax proposal, here’s something lawmakers in Harrisburg are not talking about: Companies building new pipelines to grow markets for Pennsylvania’s natural gas don’t have to pay local property taxes on those lines to counties, towns and school districts. So [...]

Pipeline expansion could bring more shale gas to Philly

Philadelphia may be getting more Marcellus Shale gas if all goes well with plans for an expansion of the Philadelphia Lateral, a section of the Texas Eastern pipeline system. Spectra Energy, the pipeline company that operates Texas Eastern, has plans to enlarge the capacity of the pipeline that connects the transmission line to Philadelphia. Devin [...]

FERC rejects environmentalists appeal on Cove Point LNG exports

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has denied a request by several environmental groups to halt construction on Dominion Energy’s Cove Point LNG export terminal in Lusby, MD and conduct a more thorough environmental review. Environmentalists have been fighting the conversion of the mothballed import terminal into an import/export facility, saying FERC should consider the environmental [...]

Gas industry urges U.S. to speed approval of LNG export terminals

The natural gas industry’s leading trade group on Thursday stepped up pressure on the federal government to approve plans for liquefied natural gas export terminals, issuing a white paper which argues that the U.S. risks missing an opportunity to dominate the global market unless it acts quickly. America’s Natural Gas Alliance said the U.S. could [...]

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 [...]

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 »

Economy
Education