Gathering,Transmission and Distribution Pipelines for Natural Gas

by Duane Nichols on March 31, 2012

U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration

Private companies are installing hundreds of small gathering pipelines for the shale gas in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Nationwide, about 240,000 miles of gathering pipelines carry the gases to processing facilities and larger pipelines. These pipelines pass through pasture fields, under roads, through suburban areas and sometimes urban areas.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a recent report said that most of those miles are not regulated by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which means they are not regularly inspected for leaks or corrosion. In some states, officials don’t know where the lines are. Gathering lines in Pennsylvania typically receive no federal oversight if there are fewer than 10 homes within 220 yards of the pipeline.

Nationwide, there are about 200,000 miles of gas gathering lines and up to 40,000 miles of hazardous liquid gathering lines in rural and urban areas alike, ranging in diameter from about 2 to 12 inches. But only about 24,000 of those miles are regulated, according to the report. The industry is not required to report pipeline-related fatality, injury or property damage information about the unregulated lines. PHMSA only collects information about accidents on the small subset of gathering lines that the agency regulates.

The pipeline agency is considering collecting more data on the unregulated gas gathering lines, but the plans are still preliminary and have met with some resistance from the natural gas industry. Agency officials are reviewing more than 100 public comments received about their proposal for gas lines, and also plan to propose a rule that will cover hazardous liquid gathering pipelines by the fall.

PHMSA delegates some enforcement of its rules to state-level pipeline safety authorities, who the Government Accountability Office surveyed to understand the array of risks associated with gathering lines. Those state-level agencies told the auditors that construction quality, maintenance practices, unknown locations, and limited or no information on current pipeline integrity all posed safety risks for federally unregulated gathering pipelines.

The San Bruno Natural Gas Pipeline Explosion of September 2010

A natural gas pipeline explosion occurred in San Bruno, Calif. in September 2011 which took eight lives and destroyed the whole neighborhood.  At issue is who will pay $11 billion for the necessary upgrades to PG&E Corp.’s pipeline system: customers or shareholders? Arguments are taking place in California’s administrative courts at the California Public Utilities Commission, to determine just who pays what.

The decision will have major implications not just for PG&E but also for a natural gas industry now deeply involved in shale gas embedded in rock formations deep underground. According to the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, between 29,000 and 62,000 miles of additional pipeline is needed to meet the expected future need for natural gas over 25 years. That will take an investment of $200 billion. As for San Bruno, the National Transportation Safety Board assigned much of the blame to PG&E, saying that the utility had no methods in place to detect structural weaknesses in its pipeline. It also said that the company did not have shut-off valves that would have limited the explosion’s severity.


  A Number In WV You May Never Need


Don’t hesitate to call the above toll-free number if you live near a Dominion Transmission pipeline and you suspect a potential pipeline hazard or notice any signs of a gas leak, such as: (1) hissing, blowing or roaring sounds of escaping gas, (2) the smell of natural gas, (3) unexplained dead vegetation or ground discoloration, (4) blowing dirt, sand, or water; bubbles coming from standing water, exposed pipelines, or frozen ground when the weather is warm.  That number will put you in touch with Dominion Transmission’s 24-hour, 7-day emergency service.

If you plan excavation work, please call 811 or 1-800-245-4848

Know what’s below, Call  811 before you dig.  Dominion/WV

Source:  Advertisement, Morgantown Dominion-Post, March 30, 2011, page 10-A.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: