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PA Pipeline Task Force's Final Report Could Mean More Oil/Gas Legislation

Pennsylvania's Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force sent a final report to Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday with 184 recommendations aimed at accelerating and ensuring safe development that could lead to legislation and help the state deal with an anticipated boom in natural gas pipeline construction in the next decade.

Wolf announced the formation of the task force last May and the 48-member group, which was chaired by state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley, delivered its 658-page report on time after eight public meetings (see Shale DailyMay 28, 2015). The report is little changed from a draft version that was released for public comment in November (see Shale DailyNov. 16, 2015). But in a conference call with reporters on Thursday, Quigley said he hopes the real work will start soon.

"Certainly, there are a number of  [recommendations] that will require legislation, and that's really the purpose of the next step," he said. "...The work really begins now, to take these 184 recommendations and assess each and every one individually.

"This work will be a success if it's embraced and we continue the dialogue, not only in agencies and offices of government, but in company board rooms," Quigley added. "This report is a call for everybody to do better. It's a call for every company in the industry to follow the lead of the best actors."

The task force was asked by Wolf to identify best practices and make recommendations in six key areas, including public participation; safety; construction; permitting; environmental impacts and economic development. The task force's work was aided by more than 100 other members that participated in 12 work groups. It prioritized the recommendations with voting, ranked them and identified the top two recommendations in each of the key categories.

"Under public participation, early, frequent engagement with communities by pipeline companies was the top recommendation," Quigley said. "This is critical. And frankly, not all companies engage with host communities as they should. Landowners too need to be educated about their rights...throughout the process."

Among some of the task force's other top recommendations were:

  • Better training for emergency responders
  • Minimize the impacts of pipeline stream crossings
  • Maintain adequate staffing levels to review infrastructure projects
  • Identify the barriers to sharing rights-of-ways
  • Attract more military veterans to the energy workforce
  • Implement electronic permitting

"It's true that some of the recommendations in our report are already required by law or regulations," Quigley said. "The fact that they bubbled up from the work groups shows that the additional education and engagement we've talked about in our report is necessary. But it's also accurate to say that just because something is already required by law or regulation, does not mean that it's always done."

Quigley said a lead state agency has been identified for each of the 184 recommendations. The DEP is the lead agency for more than half of them. It has convened an internal work group that will evaluate each recommendation and decide which ones can be implemented, in what timeframe and which ones can't be achieved. He said other stage agencies, and midstream companies themselves, should do the same to advance the task force's work.

With no single agency in charge of pipeline permitting and approvals, Quigley said the group's work should help promote more coordination among all stakeholders to better protect the environment and accelerate pipeline development in the state. He added that Pennsylvania anticipates tens of thousands of miles of natural gas gathering pipelines and thousands of miles of transmission lines will be constructed in the state in the next decade.

Currently, he said, about 30% of the 2,400 wells that have been drilled recently are still waiting on pipeline connections.

"Every county in the commonwealth will be impacted by this wave of infrastructure development and indeed the cumulative impacts of this build-out will exceed the environmental impact of well drilling itself," Quigley said, citing studies from The Nature Conservancy.

The task force is not without precedent. In recent years, Wyoming and Michigan have put together similar groups to help encourage development, enhance local natural gas prices and improve safety. After Wolf announced the task force's formation in May, the Marcellus Shale Coalition said it welcomed the opportunity to "lend our industry's subject matter expertise and deep knowledge" to the group's efforts.

“Modernizing Pennsylvania’s pipeline infrastructure is a critical step towards getting the economic equation right for the commonwealth,” said MSC spokeswoman Erica Clayton Wright on Thursday. “It is important that we remain focused on providing Pennsylvania communities with this abundant and affordable resource and building downstream development opportunities through infrastructure buildout.”

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