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Bill Reintroduced to Regulate Pennsylvania NatGas Gathering Lines

Pennsylvania state Sen. Lisa Baker has reintroduced legislation that would give state regulators more oversight over rural natural gas gathering pipelines that are not already regulated by the federal government.

SB 488 would give the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) jurisdiction over Class 1 unconventional gathering lines. The lines are not public utilities and aren't regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or the federal pipeline safety laws enforced by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Under the bill, the PUC could adopt or modify regulations to cover the tens of thousands of miles of rural gathering lines in the state.

A Class 1 location is classified by PHMSA as an offshore area or any unit that has 10 or fewer buildings intended for human occupancy. PHMSA doesn't regulate Class 1 gathering lines based on its risk assessment model.

A single pipeline often has several different classes of lines on it depending upon the area it traverses. While PHMSA has jurisdiction over pipeline facilities it hands over inspection and enforcement duties to individual states. Pennsylvania only oversees pipelines regulated as public utilities, making it one of the only states in the country that doesn't regulate gathering lines.

"I believe the commonwealth should have the authority to exercise safety jurisdiction over these lines, which are prevalent in my Senate district and could be a risk to people, property and the environment," Baker said in a memo to lawmakers.

The legislation would allow the PUC to investigate reports of hazardous infrastructure, safety complaints and for compliance with state and federal laws. It would also require pipeline marking; incident reporting; minimum construction standards; better record keeping; leakage surveys, and damage prevention programs.

It would provide for penalties and assessments to help pay for the PUC's regulatory costs. The bill was referred to the Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee on Monday.

Baker, who represents counties in Northeast Pennsylvania in areas of heavy Marcellus Shale development, introduced the bill last session. She also tried for similar legislation in 2011. Last year's bill had bipartisan support and was watched closely by the industry.

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