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Senate Hearing On Pipeline Safety Points To Need To Hold Pipeline Companies Accountab

The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy and Consumer Affairs and Professional Licensure Committees Tuesday held a joint hearing on pipeline safety reviewing the state’s authority to regulate pipelines and the steps and missteps taken to deal with a variety of issues related to the Sunoco Mariner East 1 and 2 Pipelines in Chester County and other areas.
Gladys M. Brown, Chairman, Public Utility Commission, provided an overview of the authority the PUC has to regulate pipelines, noting federal law preempts state authority to approve pipeline routes and regulation of natural gas and natural gas liquids pipelines in interstate commerce.
The PUC does have a formal agreement with the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to enforce federal pipeline safety laws in the Commonwealth. The PUC performed 1,745 individual pipeline inspections in 2017 she said.
The PUC has 21 employees to enforce the safety requirements for a total of 81,213 miles of pipelines of several types-- gas distribution mains (48,139 miles), natural gas distribution services (28,933 miles), natural gas gathering lines (799 miles), natural gas transmission lines (1,275 miles) and hazardous liquids (2,067 miles) of pipeline in the state.
Brown noted the PUC’s proposed budget for the coming year asks for two additional staff to be added to the Pipeline Safety Division.
Brown said the PUC devoted a significant portion of its resources over the past several years to the Sunoco Mariner East 2 Pipeline Project, 76 inspection days in 2017 alone, and will continue to monitor and inspect the Project.
She described the steps taken to shutdown the Mariner East 1 Pipeline to safety risks.
“(T)he Commission acted swiftly to suspend the operation of Mariner East 1, investigate any and all repercussions on the integrity of the pipeline from these circumstances, and place the burden on Sunoco to prove that re-authorizing the operation of the pipeline is safe, reasonable, and in the public interest,” said Brown. “This situation exemplifies the role this Commission plays to ensure pipelines operate safely in Pennsylvania.”
With respect to a request to conduct a public risk assessment of a hazardous liquid pipeline like Mariner East 2, Brown said a risk assessment is “likely prohibited by state law” noting legal restrictions on protecting confidential security information of public utilities.
“The Commission acknowledges the risks present in the transportation of natural gas liquids by pipeline,” said Brown. “The Commission will continue its ongoing oversight of the safety and operations of Sunoco and its hazardous liquids pipeline system to mitigate said risk. To the extent the Commission discovers any issues which raise concerns about the safe operation of any pipeline within its jurisdiction, rest assured that the Commission will take prompt action to protect the public.”
In response to a question from Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), Minority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, Brown said the PUC does do a risk assessment related to pipelines it regulates, but they are not made public due to the need to protect confidential information by state law.
Paul Metro, PUC Manager for Gas Safety said, in response to a question from Sen. Yudichak, there were seven incidents related to natural gas pipelines releasing products in the past year, including three natural gas explosions. There was one incident involving a release of natural gas liquids from a pipeline that as reportable under federal law.
Domenic Rocco, Acting Manager, DEP Regional Permit Coordination Office, outlined to the Committee how DEP regulates the construction of pipeline construction through Chapter 102 (Erosion and Sedimentation), Chapter 105 (Water Obstructions and Encroachments) and Chapter 106 (Floodplain Encroachments).
Rocco pointed to the DEP Pennsylvania Pipeline Portal as a source of information for how DEP regulates pipelines and for information on ongoing pipeline projects.
The types of information available includes the 2016 Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force Report, DEP’s permit review process, Mariner East 2, Atlantic Sunrise, PennEast, Shell Ethane and Sunoco Pipeline Pump Station projects.
Rocco provided one recommendation for legislative changes to the Committee.
He noted DEP does not have an inventory of private water supplies and does not regulate private water supplies, including standards for water well construction. Additional statutory authority would be helpful in this area to protect those supplies from the impacts of projects like pipelines.
Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery) asked for more information on how DEP locates private water wells that could be impacted by pipelines.
Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester) was critical of DEP for lack of communication with the PUC over the sinkhole incidents that lead to the PUC’s shutdown of the Mariner East 1 Pipeline.
In response to a question from Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery), Rocco said there is a point at which DEP would pull the plug on a pipeline construction project if there continues to be violations, but there is no predetermined way to define that point.
It was noted later in the hearing Sunoco has had problems similar to the Mariner East 2 Pipeline spills in Pennsylvania at similar projects in Ohio and West Virginia.
Andrew Williams, Director of Regulatory & Legislative Affairs for the Environmental Defense Fund, said they are focused on developing a responsible framework to better assess and deal with the inherent risks associated with pipeline design, construction, operation and maintenance.
Williams said the PUC did the right thing to halt operation of Mariner East 1 Pipeline, but “it is time to hold bad actors accountable for direct and negative impacts to the public and require that companies have a compressive plan to reduce the overall risk of their operations. It is simply unacceptable that many people are still without water resources – now for over six months in some places according to my conversations with impacted residents.”
Williams said more needs to be done to control leaks from natural gas gathering pipelines, noting a 2013 PUC case found one legacy natural gas gathering system had a loss rate of 70 percent.
EDF supported legislation sponsored by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) last year that became law to add the location of some natural gas gathering pipelines to the PA One Call Program, but there are no regulations to require gathering line operators to find and fix leaks.
Williams also said EDF has been working in Pittsburgh with Peoples Gas and Google to use new technology to detect leaks in natural gas distribution lines.
Rebecca Britton, Uwchland Safety Coalition in Chester County, gave the Committees a practical description of the issues of responding to a leak or an explosion from the Mariner East 1 and 2 natural gas liquids pipelines.
She said development that has grown up around the pipeline route that was originally approved in 1930.
“Regardless, of the supposed economic benefits you will hear about today; expanding pipeline infrastructure without balancing the need for public safety, we grow this expansion haphazardly,” said Britton. “The results of these loopholes in legislation have created a landscape where the public feels our interests are not being met.
“In Chester and Delaware Counties many easement owners with the means to do so have sold their homes and fled the path of the pipeline,” explained Britton. “Children sleep as close as 25 feet from the pipeline and the easement traverses sometimes under foundations. Schools are less than 100 feet from the most unstable gases in the industry, because the only entity that approved this route was the operator itself.
“Our first responders may/may not be properly equipped or prepared. Uninformed residents are being subjected involuntarily to risks they don’t understand,” Britton said.
Melissa DiBernadino, Goshen United For Public Safety, expressed very similar concerns to those outlined by Britton about living next to a natural gas liquids pipelines.
DiBernadino said one of her most frightening concerns is a leak of the colorless, odorless natural gas liquid that is not detected in time to react to the emergency. She added, the only way it seems these leaks can be detected is when people begin passing out.
She noted the Mariner East 1 Pipeline was original approved in 1930 to ship heating oil, a much more benign product.
Sen. Dinniman said his constituents in Chester County do not know what to do in an emergency involving the pipeline saying he has heard nothing about these issues from the PA Emergency Management Agency.
Keith Coyle, Chairman, Marcellus Shale Coalition Pipeline Safety Workgroup, said “Pipelines are the safest and most reliable means of transporting the nation’s energy products. According to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, pipelines caused fewer fatalities and injuries than other modes of transportation during the past decade.”
He also provided an overview of how pipelines are regulated.
With respect to rural natural gas gathering lines, Coyle, said PHMSA is currently considering whether to modify their exemption and apply new reporting and safety standards.
In addition, the American Petroleum Institute is developing a new recommended practice with safety standards for rural gas gathering lines. API plans to publish the new recommend practice later this year, he said.
Both Sen. Rafferty and Sen. Dinniman said at the hearing they are working with Sen. Yaw and others to develop legislation to deal with what they see as holes in the current process for regulating pipelines, siting pipeline routes, regulating pipeline and agents related to eminent domain, the lack of coordination between agencies on regulating pipelines and for community interaction with pipeline companies.
Sen. Rafferty has already introduced Senate Bill 604 would centralize state pipeline inspections in PennDOT, Senate Bill 605 establishes a state impact fee for areas impacted by pipelines, Senate Bill 1027 further providing for notification of residents impacted by pipeline construction and Senate Bill 1028 requiring pipeline operators to conduct studies of aquifers that may be impacted by pipeline construction.
Sen. Dinniman has already introduced Senate Bill 928 requiring pipeline companies to apply to the PUC on pipeline routes, Senate Bill 929 allowing municipalities to impose an impact fee on pipelines to fund emergency response actions, Senate Bill 930 requiring pipeline companies to meet with county emergency coordinators to share emergency response information and Senate Bill 931 requiring pipelines to have more shut-off values in more highly developed areas.
Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said one of the things the hearing revealed is state agencies are not talking to each other and that “maybe we are dealing with a “bad apple” company”-- Sunoco-- that doesn’t know how to talk to people.
He pointed to his experience with Marcellus Shale drilling companies in his area where companies met with people in communities early on to tell them what they can expect from drilling and what a big difference it made in how they were received.
Sen. Yaw said Sunoco’s actions are affecting what’s happening with pipelines all around Pennsylvania and other places.
Sen. Tommy Tomlinson (R-Bucks), Majority Chair of the Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee, pointed to one passage in Andrew Williams testimony that summarized the hearing for him-- “it is time to hold bad actors accountable for direct and negative impacts to the public.”
In addition to questions at the hearing, Sen. Rafferty provided written comments to the Committee on the pipeline issues.
Click Here for copies of written testimony and to watch a video of the hearing.
[Note: The House Republican Policy Committee held a similar hearing on pipeline safety Thursday in Media, Delaware County hosted by Rep. Chris Quinn (R-Delaware)]
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