With across-the-board federal budget cuts looming in the wake of the congressional super committee’s meltdown, the current spate of natural gas pipeline safety initiatives is unlikely to be harmed, according to a Washington, DC-based spokesperson for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA).

Cathy Landry, INGAA communications director, told NGI last week that INGAA members — representing the vast majority of the major interstate gas pipeline operators in North America — do not feel the pipelines will feel the pinch of upcoming mandated federal cutbacks. The principal federal regulators for pipelines, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in the U.S. Transportation Department and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), are both self-funded, for the most part, by the industries they regulate.

In the wake of a number of major pipeline incidents, including the fatal ruptures of transmission and distribution lines in California and Pennsylvania in the past 14 months, both the Senate and House are moving new pipeline safety bills (see NGI, Oct. 24, Sept. 26, Sept. 12). In addition, several states are proposing regulatory action.

“PHMSA is not going to be affected; it’s money is still going to be there,” Landry said. “It is really an agency paid for by the pipeline companies. R&D [research/development] doesn’t come from the government, so there is no huge pot of funds from the government that pipelines are dependent upon. And FERC is largely self-funded, too.”

INGAA has remained optimistic that some form of a new pipeline safety law would emerge from this congress, which has been so stubbornly stalemated on fiscal issues (see NGI, Sept. 19). It was closely following a trio of bills at one point this fall and was involved in the National Transportation Safety Board’s hearings early in the year on the San Bruno pipeline rupture and explosion in California.

Federal and state regulators both have been pushing proposals to toughen the pipeline safety rules, and INGAA has made no secret about its preference for a new federal law.

INGAA is active in touting the need for new pipeline infrastructure in the next 25 years to satisfy what its members think will be a big supply push by producers wanting to have new laterals from the growing shale plays around the country. “It is not easy to get gathering lines built, and then if you’re in an area with a lot of gathering, there still may not be enough takeaway capacity as the INGAA Foundation report [see NGI, July 4] pointed out,” Landry said.

“Our report found that pipeline building and construction over the next 25 years is going to be for enhancing the existing systems so we can accommodate these supplies from new areas or from old areas that are now producing in much greater numbers. The big question is: How do you change or alter the system so you can take into account this new dynamic?”

A national pipeline safety bill, and not federal budget cuts, is the great unknown at this point for the pipelines, Landry said.

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