Sustained Outrage

Report: Most U.S. pipelines go uninspected

Gas Line Explosion

This image provided by the West Virginia State Police shows a fireball erupting across Interstate 77 from a gas line explosion in Sissonville, W. Va.,  Dec. 11, 2012.   (AP Photo/West Virginia State Police)

The U.S. Energy Information Administration is reporting in the latest edition of its “Today in Energy“:

A notable increase since early 2012 in natural gas production in West Virginia and nearby counties in southern Pennsylvania continued through July 2013. Although producers have increasingly shifted their attention to more liquids-rich shale gas in the wet gas regions of these states, production in the dry gas regions has benefitted from the addition of infrastructure, improving takeaway capacity from their gas fields.

From July to September last year, the following projects expanded the production capacity of West Virginia and southern Pennsylvania by almost 1 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d):

  • July 2012: Equitrans placed its Sunrise Project into full service, with capacity to carry 0.31 Bcf/d from Wetzel County, West Virginia, to Greene County, Pennsylvania, and providing access to five separate interconnections serving Mid-Atlantic consumers.
  • September 2012: Dominion Transmission initiated service from the four new compressor stations and 110 miles of new pipeline built for its Appalachian Gateway Project, providing capacity to carry 0.47 Bcf/d of natural gas from production areas in West Virginia and southern Pennsylvania to an interconnect with the Texas Eastern Transmission Pipeline.
  • September 2012: Equitrans placed into service its newly built 0.20 Bcf/d Blacksville Compressor Station in Monongalia County, West Virginia.

Given all of that, the latest information made public by the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility is certainly interesting:

Only a small fraction of America’s vast network of natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines has undergone any sort of inspection in recent years, including several hundred pipelines which have spilled or broken down, according to federal records displayed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, the safety and reliability of much of this key but volatile transport grid remains unknown.

Only a small fraction of America’s vast network of natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines has undergone any sort of inspection in recent years, including several hundred pipelines which have spilled or broken down, according to federal records displayed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, the safety and reliability of much of this key but volatile transport grid remains unknown.

Records obtained from the he Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that –

  • Of the more than 2.6 million oil, natural gas and propane pipeline miles regulated by PHMSA less than a fifth (583,692) has been inspected by federal or state officials since 2006;
  • Another 132,300 miles has been inspected by their operators during that same period but PHMSA cannot say whether any industry inspections have been independently reviewed; and
  • Since 2006, there have been more than 300 incidents, such as a spill, explosion or breakdown, which triggered no follow-up inspection

Despite these figures, PHMSA’s latest annual report on November 30, 2012 to Congress on inspection and enforcement needs is less than one page long and mentions no need or even desire to increase inspections.

PEER counsel Kathryn Douglass, noting that the present rate of less than one thousand federal and state inspections each year offers no hope of keeping pace, said:

At the current rate, most of our oil and gas pipeline network will not be inspected in this generation. Inspections are supposed to prevent damaging incidents but the main way pipeline deficiencies now become manifest is when ruptures or explosions make them obvious. This approach to pipeline safety is like searching for gas leaks with a lit candle.