A Presidential Natural Gas Access and Expansion Task Force has been created by the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) to develop best practices and recommendations to help expand natural gas service in neglected areas of the country, including rural communities.

Many rural communities lack access to gas because of infrastructure issues as local distribution lines and gas utility services are unavailable, NARUC said. The underserved and unserved communities have to rely on bottled propane, heating oil and other more expensive fuels. The task force would analyze the potential demand to extend service, expand infrastructure and identify alternative or unconventional approaches to reaching those areas.

"Too many Americans live in communities that lack the basic access to natural gas service, a situation that we hope to remedy through the work of this task force," said Mississippi Commissioner Brandon Presley, who is co-chair of the task force with Pennsylvania Commissioner John Coleman. North Dakota Commissioner Julie Fedorchak is serving as vice-chair.

"These infrastructure issues that cause added expense, inconvenience or other burdens to consumers who lack natural gas service need to be resolved," Coleman said.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regulates the rates set for transportation and storage, as well as the operating terms and conditions of interstate pipelines. However, within state boundaries, the gas distribution through pipeline systems owned by local gas distribution companies is regulated by NARUC's members.

NARUC passed a resolution during its recent winter meeting regarding the natural gas pipeline siting review, member information sharing and tool kit initiative, which specifically resolved to ensure continued member education and initiatives on issues about expediting reviews of interstate gas pipeline siting. Other previous resolutions noted the need to "explore, examine, and consider adopting alternative rate recovery mechanisms as necessary to accelerate the modernization, replacement and expansion of the nation's natural gas pipeline systems."

During the eight-month term of the task force, the group's main focus is to prepare an analytical report that would:

  • Study current access, expansion and service extension policies for underserved and unserved areas;
  • Examine the need for access and expansion including case studies and review of the barriers and obstacles to such access;
  • Recommend potential mechanisms to address the benefits and opportunities for access and expansion and identifies alternative or unconventional approaches to reaching unserved and underserved areas; and
  • Compile a national best practices collection on gas access and expansion to underserved and unserved areas.

The task force also would coordinate with NARUC's Committee on Gas to identify opportunities to collaborate with affiliated organizations to collect best practices. State commissioners invited to serve are Ken Anderson (Texas), Stephen Bloom (Oregon), Julie Brown (Florida), Robert Hayden (Massachusetts), Kim O’Guinn (Arkansas), Norman Saari (Michigan), Dianne Solomon (New Jersey), Nick Wagner (Iowa) and Dallas Winslow (Delaware). Three vacant positions may be filled at the discretion of the NARUC president. Committee on Gas Chair Stan Wise of Georgia and co-Vice Chair Diane Burman of New York are serving as liaisons to the task force.

"The work of this task force will be extremely beneficial to NARUC members and their communities, as we undertake this comprehensive study of residential, commercial and industrial access and expansion of natural gas distribution infrastructure," said NARUC President Robert Powelson.

"We will better understand the demand for natural gas service in unserved and underserved areas, the barriers and obstacles to such access and expansion (e.g., consumers' inability to pay for access or conversion to natural gas service) and provide relevant economic information on the costs and benefits to expand natural gas distribution infrastructure."