By Heidi Slinkard Brasher
The Government Accountability Office recently issued a report on the safety of federally unregulated gathering pipelines using information, data and surveys gathered from PHMSA, state pipeline safety agencies, pipeline companies, and industry groups from February 2011 to March 2012. The GAO report, “Collecting Data and Sharing Information on Federally Unregulated Gathering Pipelines Could Help Enhance Safety,” was released in March 2012.
While noting that the vast majority of the nation’s natural gas and hazardous liquid gathering lines are unregulated because they are seen as less risky than their non-rural or high-pressure counterparts, a lack of adequate recording of data to understand the actual risk associated with such lines was noted. While property damage claims alone are in the millions of dollars for regulated gathering lines, the GAO report estimates that more than 200,000 miles of unregulated onshore gathering lines exist with no corresponding method to account for the costs associated with incidents involving these pipelines.
Citing a lack of communication, information sharing, and awareness of safety practices, the GAO suggested that PHMSA begin to collect data on currently unregulated gathering pipelines and establish a clearinghouse online to share pipeline safety practices associated with such unregulated lines.
The complete report identifies the safety risks the GAO believes are associated with the gathering lines PHMSA does not currently regulate and notes state practices which are being used to ensure such pipelines operate safely, including damage prevention and public awareness programs and targeted inspections of high-risk areas or operators.