Who Regulates What
Pipelines operate under a variety of Federal and state regulations. Unfortunately, who regulates what––and who and what are not regulated––can be very confusing.
Siting: The location of a pipeline begins with the location of the fuel resource and ends with the distribution point or end user of the fuel. Generally, a company extracting fuel sells that fuel to a pipeline operator who creates a preferred route for proposed pipeline transportation lines which include gathering and transmission lines.
State and Federal regulations are complex, vary state to state, by type pipeline (interstate or intrastate) and by what they carry. There is no federal siting authority for hazardous liquid gas pipelines.
If a transmission line crosses state or country boundaries, it is an interstate pipeline and the proposal is submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency (FERC). Section 7 of the Natural Gas Act, 15 U.S.C. S717f(c), allows FERC to issue a “certificate of public necessity and convenience” for the construction and operation of natural gas pipelines used to transport gas across state lines. The use of eminent domain by a pipeline company for interstate pipelines begins here.
If the transmission line does not cross state boundaries it is intrastate pipeline. There is no federal siting for intrastate natural gas pipelines. Intrastate siting may or may not be regulated by State agencies and should be examined on a state by state basis with your state pipeline regulator to find out if your state has a pipeline siting agency. As example of complexity, in Pennsylvania, the pipeline company, operator or utility has siting authority for Class One Gathering Lines, intrastate transmission lines, compressor stations, city gates and distribution lines. Records are owned by the utility and are not subject to disclosure requirement to city, local, state nor federal agencies.
The Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act of 1968 authorizes the Department of Transportation to regulate pipeline transportation of flammable, toxic, or corrosive natural gas, other gases and the transportation and storage of liquefied natural gas.
U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), develops and enforces minimum regulations for the safe operation of the nation’s 2.6 million mile pipeline system and the nearly 1 million daily shipments of hazardous materials by land, sea and air.
The Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) oversees and implements interstate pipeline safety regulations. States are responsible for intrastate pipeline safety. Acting as an agent for the federal Office of Pipeline Safety and the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Gas Safety Division of a state’s PUC enforces the federal pipeline safety regulations.
As example, in Pennsylvania, safe operations & maintenance of existing intrastate and interstate pipelines is overseen by OPS Eastern Region Office, Washington, DC. The Gas Safety Division of The Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is responsible for enforcing federal and Commission pipeline safety regulations as they apply to the certificated natural gas utilities in Pennsylvania. PUC’s Safety Division monitors compliance with regulations by conducting inspections of pipeline facilities and records of regulated gas utilities. PUC may prescribe additional, non-conflicting standards for intrastate gas pipeline operators including design, installation, operation, inspection, testing, construction, extension, replacement and maintenance of pipeline facilities. PUC also investigates gas related incidents such as fires, explosions and major outages.
In March 2012, Pennsylvania enacted Act 127, also known as the Gas and Hazardous Liquids Pipelines Act (or “the Pipeline Act”). Act 127 expanded PA PUC authority to enforce federal pipeline safety laws in non-public utility gas and hazardous materials pipelines and facilities, including all classes of intrastate pipelines and all classes of gathering lines – with exception of Class 1 gathering lines. Since Class 1 gathering lines are exempt from PHMSA authority, they are also exempt from PUC safety authority. Under Act 127, PUC has established and maintains a registry of the locations, miles and size of pipelines, pressures, and operators of all gas pipelines in Pennsylvania. Class 1 gathering lines are to be included in registry for miles of pipeline only.
The registry does not give PA PUC siting authority over non-interstate lines, however the registry does provide the PA PUC with the power to track and maintain records of the location of intrastate pipelines. The PA PUC has stated their present understanding is that PHMSA considers farm taps as regulated distribution service regardless of their Class location
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent Federal agency charged by Congress with investigating every civil aviation accident in the U.S. and significant accidents in other modes of transportation-railroad, highway, marine and pipeline.
Below are NTSB pipeline accident reports for Allentown, PA and San Bruno, CA.
2011 – UGI Utilities Distribution Line Explosion and Fatalities (report is not available)
1976 – UGI Natural Gas Explosion and Fire (report is not available electronically)