This story began with a simple task: Let’s make a pipeline map!
Everyone wants to know where all the new Marcellus Shale gas pipelines are or will be. The new proposals have been piling up. Many have poetic names like Atlantic Sunrise, Mariner East, and Bluestone. There got to to be so many they started to get numbers: Mariner East I, Mariner East II.
Here at StateImpact Pennsylvania, try as we might, we couldn’t keep track of them all in our heads. We also wanted to map all the smaller lines, and the lines that may have been there for decades, which everyone tends to forget about.
The Wolf Administration estimates that 30,000 more miles of new pipelines will be built in Pennsylvania within the next two decades. So, where will they be?
Pipeline companies know exactly the routes for all the pipelines they maintain or plan to build. But they aren’t required to share that information with public.
Instead they release vague maps with colorful lines swooshing across Pennsylvania, showing where a proposed line might go.
We spoke with our resident map maker, who told us that wasn’t good enough. She needed geospatial data, the kind of thing that in this high tech digital world means plotting the line along its actual path, instead of just drawing a line that approximates the path.
We took a look at all the plans submitted for new pipelines, but they were just drawings, without data. We checked with the Pipeline Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA), which has a national map of the major interstate pipelines. But again, just a drawing, no geospatial data available to the public, and by the way, don’t even try to do a right-to-know request. Interstate pipeline maps are exempt from that in this post-911 world.
Then we contacted Mark Smith, who runs a map-making company called Geospatial Corporation. We told him what we wanted to do: map the web of pipelines beneath our feet. He laughed at us.
“Well, it’s not universally mapped,” said Smith. “In fact it’s probably the last piece of infrastructure out there that’s not mapped.”
Wait, this stuff is highly flammable right?