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Biden Administration Set to Regulate Rural Gathering Pipelines

Texas Pipeline Explosion Lawyer | New Rural Gathering Pipelines Regulations

More than 400,000 miles of gathering pipelines are set to finally come under federal authority, following the publication of a final rule by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) earlier this week.

Unregulated Gathering Pipelines Blamed for Deadly Explosions

The nation’s network of gathering pipelines, which runs under primarily rural areas, transports natural gas from production sites to interstate pipelines and has never before fallen under the purview of the federal agency. Instead, oversight was left to the states. Texas was among the many that did not regulate gathering pipelines, even though thousands of miles of such lines underly the Permian basin and other energy-producing regions in the state.

The absence of regulation has contributed to a number of devastating accidents, including a pipeline explosion that tragically killed a Midland County toddler in August 2018 and badly burned three members of her family. Investigators later determined that a 10-inch gathering line had developed a dime-sized hole due to a “compromised” anti-corrosive coating. It had apparently been leaking natural gas for an unknown length of time before the fatal blast.

New Rule Covers 425,000+ Miles of Gas Gathering Pipelines

The PHMSA’s new rule was 10 years in the making and expands the definition of a ‘regulated’ gas gathering pipeline that is more than 50 years old. The rule will also — for the first time – require pipeline operators to report safety information for all gas gathering lines, representing more than 425,000 additional miles covered by federal reporting requirements.

“After years in development, these new regulations represent a major step to enhance and modernize pipeline safety and environmental standards,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “This rule will improve safety, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and result in more jobs for pipeline workers that are needed to help upgrade the safety and operations of these lines.”

U.S. Has More Gathering Pipelines than Regulated Transmission Lines

According to the PHMSA, the country actually has more miles of unregulated gathering lines than regulated transmission lines. The newly issued final rule is aimed at closing those regulatory gaps. In addition to the new reporting mandate, the operators of natural gas gathering lines will now be required to take corrosion control measures, conduct leakage surveys, and undertake emergency response planning.

The impact of the new regulations will vary by state, as they establish only minimum standards. Operators of modern gathering lines constructed during the shale drilling boom will likely have an easier time complying with the regulations than those operating older pipelines built decades ago.

The new reporting requirements could eventually lead to more federal oversight down the road, as the PHMSA will be using the collected data to identify the causes of incidents, where they occur, and how frequently to guide its future regulatory approach.

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