A new proposal in Pennsylvania aims to protect natural gas gathering lines in the quick growing Marcellus Shale region from accidentally getting damaged during excavation.

Sen. Lisa Baker and Rep. Matthew Baker, both Republicans from northeastern Pennsylvania, plan to introduce legislation this fall to add gathering lines to the One Call System.

Under the Pennsylvania Underground Utility Protection law, anyone planning to disturb the earth in the state must first contact the Pennsylvania One Call System. The system in turn requires the facility owner to mark the location of various underground utilities, like electric cables and water lines. Gas gathering lines, though, are not currently covered by the law.

With the rapid expansion of the Marcellus, though, operators are adding hundreds of miles of gathering lines to the regional system in order to connect well sites to transmission lines.

Expanding the One Call System is a major issue for the natural gas industry. According to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, nearly 35% of all major pipeline accidents come from people digging blindly, the largest single cause.

The two Bakers tackled pipeline safety earlier this year with a pair of bills designed to shift the oversight of gathering lines to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) from the federal government, a move taken by every state except Pennsylvania and Alaska.

Although both bills passed their respective chambers, neither has been approved by the entire General Assembly. The bills are similar except for one key provision; the Senate bill would create a registry of gathering lines in sparsely populated corners of the state, known as Class I lines, and the House bill would not (see Shale Daily, April 8; March 2; Feb. 16).

Sen. Baker plans to introduce a bill that would extend the jurisdiction of state regulators to include Class I gathering lines, a move generally opposed by the industry. The Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission (MSAC) recommended that the General Assembly give PUC the statutory authority to set safety standards for these Class I gathering lines.

Sen. Baker asked the MSAC to recommend including gathering lines in the One Call System.