Is Federal Regulation of Local Gathering Pipelines on the Way?

The permitting and regulating of pipelines in this country–in particular natural gas pipelines–is complex. Depending on the type of pipeline, different federal and state (and even local) government agencies a) permit it, and then perhaps confusingly, b) a different agency ensures it meets safe operating standards. That is, the people who permit it usually don’t inspect it. The biggest gap in the regulation picture is that of local gathering pipelines running from the wellhead to a larger regional pipeline or compressor plant. Ohio recognized this problem and recently put the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) in charge of inspecting gathering lines (see PUCO Now Regulates Gathering Pipelines in Ohio and Cheat Sheet: Which Agencies Regulate OH Drilling/Pipelines).

Ohio has addressed the “lack of oversight of gathering lines” issue. However, Pennsylvania has not. Gathering lines in the Keystone state are still not regulated or inspected by any government agency, and that gives some people pause–and it gives some a reason to involve the federal government. A DC-based reporter writing for the Chicago-based In These Times publication has written a good article addressing the pipeline issue in general, and PA’s gathering lines in particular. He indicates the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Agency (PHMSA) is sniffing around the regulation of gathering lines, which is worrisome to those of us who believe it’s better regulated at the state level…

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