Texas Railroad Commission Weakens Proposed Gathering Pipeline Regulations

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The Texas Railroad Commission has significantly weakened a proposal aimed at preventing explosions, spills, and other accidents involving largely unregulated rural gathering pipelines.

Gathering Pipelines Linked to Fatal Permian Basin Explosions

More than 450,000 miles of rural gathering pipelines currently carry oil and natural gas from wells to processing sites throughout the United States. Texas accounts for a significant share of the nation’s gathering pipelines, with 140,000 miles as of 2014, and another 14,000 miles added since then.

The Texas side of the Permian Basin has seen several accidents involving rural gathering pipelines in recent years, including an explosion that destroyed a house and tragically killed a three-year-old girl in August 2018.

Just days earlier, another rural gathering pipeline ruptured near Midland, killing one worker and injuring six others, including two firefighters.

Oil and Gas Industry Opposed Regulations

Traditionally, gathering pipelines were relatively small. According to E&E News, however, energy companies have recently taken to building large, high-pressure gas lines that legally qualify as gathering lines.

In July, the Texas Railroad Commission staff proposed requiring pipeline operators to mark and survey all rural gathering lines for leaks. The same proposal would have also forced operators to alert people living nearby, set maximum pressure, check regularly for corrosion, and report any accidents and cooperate with investigators. Meanwhile, gathering pipelines larger than 12-inches would have been regulated the same way as long-haul transmission lines.

The oil and gas industry began raising objections almost immediately, insisting that small rural gathering pipelines aren’t dangerous enough to justify the costly regulations.

Texas Elected Officials Bow to Pipeline Operator Demands

Unfortunately, elected officials on the Texas Railroad Commission appear to have heard those complaints, and replaced many of the proposal’s specific rules with a vague requirement to operate the lines in a “reasonably prudent manner.”

“The priority is to protect the bottom line of the pipeline industry and not the health and well-being of the residents of Texas,” Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety, told E&E News.

The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is also considering new regulations for rural gathering pipelines that would apply to all 50 states.

The original Texas proposal, however, was far more comprehensive and would have subjected all rural gathering pipelines in the state to stricter regulation, regardless of size. Many of the federal rules currently under consideration would only apply to gathering pipelines over 8-inches wide, while others govern lines greater than 12.75 inches in diameter.

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