Who Oversees and Regulates Pipelines?
Federal agencies: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approves the construction, siting, and operation of interstate transmission lines. It also manages abandonment of interstate pipelines. The Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS), which is part of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), regulates interstate transmission lines, intrastate pipelines for a few states, gathering lines in populated areas, and some distribution lines that deliver gas to customers. Their primary responsibility is assuring pipeline integrity from a public safety and environmental perspective. Emergency response is also one of their mandates. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) also play regulatory roles related to their specific mandates.
Tribal governments: For approval of interstate pipelines traversing tribal lands, FERC must coordinate with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and the federal agencies must engage in government-to-government consultation with tribal authorities during the pipeline planning and review process. Intrastate pipelines that cross tribal lands must be approved by the federal government (regarding environmental and cultural impacts) and by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Pipeline safety and emergency management are also the responsibility of tribal governments, with training and technical support from OPS. As more pipeline infrastructure is needed, there is an increasing need for improved coordination between the federal government, states, and tribal authorities. 1
State agencies: States regulate flowlines at production facilities (i.e., well pads, processing plants, compressor stations, storage facilities) and gathering lines in rural areas. This is generally done through the permitting process. Most states regulate intrastate pipelines with OPS guidance, often to a more stringent standard than required by the federal government. 2 Many states also regulate distribution lines with OPS guidance.
Regulatory capacity: The pipeline network is currently managed by multiple state and federal agencies, yet these entities do not always have the resources to provide for robust management. 3 For example, PHMSA has funding for only 137 inspectors to inspect the 2.5 million miles of natural gas pipelines operated by about 3,000 companies throughout the country. 4
Gathering lines – 90% of which are rural and are therefore regulated by states – have recently emerged as a cause for concern. Newly-installed lines for servicing shale gas are usually larger and carry gas at higher pressure than traditional gathering lines, presenting the possibility of more serious incidents. State officials are often not aware of the location of many of these rural gathering lines, particularly older pipelines; and when an incident occurs, operators are often not required to report it. 5
- U.S. Department of Energy, “Stakeholder Meeting on State, Local, and Tribal Issues” (memo, Washington, DC, August 6, 2014), http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2014/08/f18/20140808%20State-Local-Tribal%20Memo%20Final.pdf. ↩
- Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), “How Are Natural Gas Transmission Pipelines Regulated?” accessed November 20, 2014, http://www.ingaa.org/cms/4923.aspx. ↩
- The National Petroleum Council, “Natural Gas Pipelines: Challenges,” 2011, http://www.npc.org/prudent_development-topic_papers/2-19_gas_pipeline_challenges_paper.pdf ↩
- FracDallas, “Pipeline Explosions Since 2001,” updated February 26, 2013, http://fracdallas.org/docs/pipelines.html ↩
- Novena Sadasivam, “Boom in Unregulated Natural Gas Pipelines Posing New Risks,” Inside Climate News (September 26, 2013), http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20130926/boom-unregulated-natural-gas-pipelines-posing-new-risks ↩