Expecting a rush of new pipelines to support growing Marcellus Shale production, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed two bills this week that give state regulators more oversight over pipelines in the state.
House Bill 344 allows the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) to enforce federal pipeline safety regulations. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Matt Baker (R-Tioga County), passed unanimously on Monday and now moves to the Senate.
Meanwhile, Senate Bill 325 makes the PUC the "state agent" for the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) and creates a statewide registry of Marcellus Shale pipelines in remote corners of the state.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Dallas), passed the Senate 49-1 and now moves to the House.
Pennsylvania is expected to get thousands of miles of new pipelines in the coming years as Marcellus Shale production spurs construction of new transportation infrastructure, but the PUC is currently only allowed to regulate pipelines with utility status.
Pennsylvania is the only natural gas producing state aside from Alaska that does not handle federal pipeline safety enforcement. The PUC supported the legislation as a way to increase its oversight without granting utility status to more companies.
While both bills increase PUC authority, neither give it complete oversight over pipelines in the state because PHMSA doesn't oversee pipelines in very sparsely populated areas, known as Class I gathering lines (see Shale Daily, March 2; Feb. 16). With drilling going on in remote corners of Pennsylvania, many future pipelines could be Class I, (although a pipeline's class can change due to population changes).
The registry in SB 325 would require operators to report to location and aggregate mileage of Class I pipelines to the PUC.
"If someone asks how much pipeline will be laid as a result of the Marcellus Shale development, the honest and indefensible answer is no one knows," Baker said on the Senate floor. "This legislation is necessary because someone must know. Local officials need to know. Emergency response units need to know. Environmental protection agencies need to know."
Baker said she plans to introduce legislation to expand PUC jurisdiction to include Class I pipelines, a measure supported by environmental groups like Earthjustice, but opposed by industry groups such as the Marcellus Shale Coalition.