The Pennsylvania Senate unanimously approved legislation Tuesday to give state regulators oversight over gathering lines in the state.

House Bill 344 would make the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) the "state agent" for the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), a designation held by every gas producing state except for Pennsylvania and Alaska.

The bill would give the PUC the authority to conduct inspections and investigations on the hundreds of smaller pipeline systems that connect wells to transmission lines. Currently, the PUC can only regulate public utilities, which creates the controversial possibility of having to extend the privilege of public domain to natural gas companies.

"With the natural gas industry continuing to grow in Pennsylvania, we need to make sure measures are in place to provide proper oversight of the pipelines due to the inherent occupational and industrial risk associated with natural gas extraction," said state Rep. Matt Baker, the Republican from Bradford County who introduced the legislation.

Because the measure would only give the PUC the same oversight as PHMSA, it would not include regulation over gathering lines in sparsely populated corners of the state, known as "Class I" pipelines.

A companion bill, Senate Bill 325, is nearly identical to HB 344, but would create a registry of all Class I lines (see Shale Daily, April 8).

That bill passed the Senate in April, but remains in a House committee.