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Pennsylvania Pipeline Task Force Designed to Help 'Natural Gas Industry Succeed'

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday announced the formation of a task force to help the oil and natural gas industry, the state and various stakeholders collaborate on pipeline development.

Wolf said the Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force would be an "unprecedented collaboration of stakeholders to facilitate the development of a world-class pipeline infrastructure system." The group would include representatives from state agencies, the legislature, federal and local governments, environmental groups, producers and midstream companies.

"We need to work with the industry to make sure that the positive economic benefits of Pennsylvania's rich natural resources can more quickly be realized in a responsible way," Wolf said. "This task force is part of our commitment to seeing the natural gas industry succeed."

The task force would develop policies, guidelines and tools to assist in pipeline development, including planning, permitting and construction.

Wolf’s office said the group would recommend a series of best practices for planning, siting and routing pipelines to avoid or reduce environmental and community impacts and would include public participation. The group would also develop long-term operations and maintenance plans to ensure pipeline safety and integrity.

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Acting Secretary John Quigley is to serve as the task force's chairman. Wolf's administration is accepting applications for the group until June 12.

The announcement comes at a time when gathering and transmission pipelines are facing growing opposition in the state and across the country (see Daily GPI, May 21; May 8; Jan. 23). In addition to infrastructure that has already been built or expanded to handle those volumes, Quigley said the state expects that 25,000 miles of gathering lines and up to 5,000 miles of transmission lines could be built in the state during the next decade.

"Now is the time for a collaborative conversation among all stakeholders," Quigley said. 

Wolf also noted that natural gas production in the state has outpaced the development of infrastructure needed to get it to market. This has led to a bottleneck in some parts of the state and an oversupply in places like New England, which has helped push basis differentials wider in the Appalachian Basin. 

Associate Executive Director of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission Gerry Baker said the formation of a pipeline task force is “not totally uncommon.” He said it’s not the first time it’s been considered or done.

“It seems like a coordinating role so you don’t have duplication at the state and federal levels,” Baker said. “FERC is interstate pipelines and utilities are intrastate, so there is a distinction and there is room for a state to coordinate efforts to remove barriers to production reaching the markets. That’s where I’d see this being helpful.”

The task force would work closely with federal agencies, state partners, local governments, industry representatives and others to meet its goals.

In 2003, Wyoming resuscitated its long-dormant pipeline authority, which had been established without funding to encourage infrastructure development. That year, the legislature passed a bill approving $1 billion to help the authority promote pipeline development for Rockies gas that had been underselling the overall market (see Daily GPI, March 14, 2003). Last year, Michigan formed a multi-agency government pipeline task force to examine the safety of such infrastructure in the state (see Daily GPI, June 27, 2014).

The Pennsylvania task force won’t receive state funding. Members must pay for their own travel expenses and other costs. But Wolf spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan said the governor does view the initiative as a way to “work with the industry to make sure the economic benefits of the natural gas industry can be realized more quickly and responsibly.” 

Ultimately, the task force will submit a final report to the governor in February 2016. After that, Sheridan said work “may continue if warranted.”

Marcellus Shale Coalition President Dave Spigelmyer said his organization welcomes the task force, adding that it would “lend our industry’s subject matter expertise and deep knowledge” to the group’s efforts.

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