Pipelines – Failure and the Lack of Transparency

This has been a busy news week – production reports, a new Marcellus Report, and pipeline news.

Since I know some may be anxious to see the last six months of well production, I’m going to paste the link here.  If you are not familiar, you can look at the county information, or specific wells.  All the data may not be available yet, but there is a bit there.

What I really want to get your attention with this week is related to the pipelinegathering line issue.  There have been at least a few gathering lines constructed in some unwise locations – parallel to or even crossing some of our gorgeous creeks and streams  where the banks in which they’ve been placed are subject to continual erosion and slides.  I’ve been asked this question many times, “Why is that gathering line placed there?”  Well, pretty much because we have no agency reviewing routes; and as long as they can, they will and they do.    There is no government agency that has any jurisdiction when it comes to gathering line routing.  There is no government agency that has jurisdiction in Class 1 Area locations – which are primarily all of our rural areas. Most gathering lines in the Northern Tier run in what is known as Class 1 Area locations.    There is no government agency that presently has jurisdiction regarding safety issues in Class 1 Area locations, to be more precise.  Our PA DEP is responsible for issuing permits regarding land disturbance and stream & wetland crossings.  But that is about it.  For more information on these particulars, please refer to the Pipelines tab.

During the week, I became aware of a West Virginia pipeline that had failed due to a landslide.  This is typically what we can expect with a pipeline and a slide.  It is given that there will be a rupture and the pipeline will fail. I discussed an example regarding a pipeline in the Northern Tier placed in an area prone to slides along with an example of why this is not a good idea based on a failure in Ohio a few years ago where 50 acres, a barn and 3 homes burned to the ground.  There is a corresponding document known as the Root Cause Analysis that explains very specifically that a pipeline will fail as a consequence of a slide.

The pipeline that failed in West Virginia,  was a pipeline transporting NGLs or natural gas liquids.  It is interesting to read in a rural area not much different  than our area the manner in which the failure is being addressed.  Fortunately, should a similar failure occur here, we won’t be dealing with the same situation that a pipeline carrying liquids poses; however, don’t disregard what a natural gas pipeline failure can do, we only need to look back a few years to the devastation that occurred on a regulated pipeline of lower pressure than that of the Marcellus gas gathering fields,  but similar in size to the pipelines installed within our region, remember San Bruno, California.

As we continue to be aware of the many homes placed within the potential impact radius of these unregulated gathering lines along with the high pressure, large diameters similar in essence to a regulated transmission line, along with in some cases poor pipeline placements, we  have to wonder, what justifies not having them regulated within our Commonwealth?

One last bit of discouraging news on pipelines occurred this week with President Obama placing his signature on HR2576, which essentially makes it more difficult for the public to gain information regarding regulations. I really thought we were moving towards more transparency, but this legislation is now going to make it harder to gain pertinent information.  You can read more about this here.   To explain in layman’s terms, the Federal Regulations will at times reference an industry practice within an industry publication that is either difficult for the public to obtain, or expensive.  There is a particular document often mentioned in the gathering fields by operators, that is about 50 pages long and costs about $120 for a copy.  You can pay a reduced fee for online access, but gaining these referenced materials is not easy.  And now, as a result of the President signing this legislation, it is going to become more difficult.

How did our Region’s Congressmen vote?   Congressman Barletta voted YEA and Congressman Marino did not vote; passed through the Senate with unanimous consent.

These are important examples and issues that affect us in the gathering fields.  We do need the Class 1 Area locations regulated, and we need more transparency from the Federal Government concerning pipeline regulations, not less.   We work better together – industry, regulators and don’t forget the public!

Emily Krafjack, President