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. Counties are notified of new pipeline construction through earth disturbance notifications.

in order to bring planning and best practices to the pipeline building boom that includes an estimated 4,600 new miles of interstate pipes over the next three years.

The meeting will be chaired by state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley.

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 formed a pipeline task force, in an attempt to bring all the actors to the table and incorporate planning and best practices to the pipeline building boom. The task force is chaired by state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley.

But beyond the limited permits to cross waterways, the state has no authority.

Latest Posts

Pipeline opponents welcome court ruling on challenge to eminent domain

A Philadelphia judge ruled that a legal challenge to Sunoco Logistics’ use of eminent domain for construction of its Mariner East 2 pipeline can go ahead despite the company’s call for the court to dismiss the case. Judge Linda Carpenter of the city’s Court of Common Pleas, in a decision published on Wednesday, sided with [...]

Landowners brace for start of tree-felling by Constitution Pipeline builders

Landowners in Susquehanna County prepared for a last-minute confrontation with tree-felling crews who were expected to begin clearing forest on Friday to make way for the planned Constitution Pipeline to take natural gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale into New York State. Opponents of the tree-clearing plan said three landowners in New Milford Township have not [...]

StateImpact Pennsylvania’s most read stories of 2015

A look back at the stories that got the most clicks from our online readers in 2015: See you next year!   10. Marcellus Shale production numbers break another record In the past few years Marcellus production numbers have kept breaking records, until this year, when things started to stall a bit, as companies cut [...]

Pipeline projects need better PR, says panel

The people who sit on Governor Tom Wolf’s pipeline infrastructure task force don’t agree on much, but there’s broad consensus on one thing–everyone could do a better job on public relations. The group is made up of representatives from industry, government, academia and environmental groups. Over the past few months, they’ve put together a draft [...]

Sunoco plans to start ethane exports from Marcus Hook by year end

Massive new ships are due to begin carrying refrigerated ethane from Marcus Hook in southeastern Pennsylvania to Europe at the end of the year as Sunoco Logistics completes a plan to pump the gas from western Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale to the point where it will have more access to world and local markets. The Philadelphia-based [...]

Sunoco scores legal victory in eminent domain case for Mariner East 2

A Pennsylvania judge this week handed Sunoco Logistics its first court victory in a battle to assert eminent domain over privately owned land where it plans to build its cross-state Mariner East 2 pipeline. Judge Edward Guido of the Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas rejected arguments by six local landowners that Sunoco has no [...]

Gas executives renew call for investment in pipelines to create energy hub

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic In this Thursday, April 17, 2014 photo, workers continue the construction at a gas pipeline site in Harmony, Pa. Natural gas industry executives on Wednesday renewed calls for investment in new pipelines to carry abundant gas and liquids from the Marcellus and Utica Shales to southeastern Pennsylvania where they would be processed, [...]

Clean Air Council sues Sunoco over Mariner East 2 Pipeline Plan

An environmental group is suing Sunoco Logistics over its plan to use eminent domain to obtain land that would allow it to build a 350-mile natural gas liquids pipeline across southern Pennsylvania. The Clean Air Council is asking the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas to rule that Sunoco cannot assert eminent domain to seize land [...]

Emails show how Wolf, DEP unfriended fractivist from pipeline group

Scott Cannon, an anti-fracking activist, says he wants to get to the bottom of why he was uninvited from Governor Wolf’s new Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force. But he hasn’t gotten there yet. Cannon, 51, of Plymouth, was originally told that he would be a part of the task force environmental protection workgroup. But Cannon was informed a few [...]

Sunoco launches eminent domain proceedings for Mariner East 2 pipeline

As Sunoco Logistics steps up efforts to create a pathway for its Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline across southern Pennsylvania, some landowners are resisting the company’s moves to build the pipeline across their properties. Residents in at least eight counties are rejecting the company’s offers of cash compensation as too low or unacceptable [...]

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