Senators call for PHMSA administrator, while Gov. Wolf sets up task force on pipelines

Gas pipeline
Source: DollarPhotoClub

As thousands of miles of pipelines are being proposed to transport natural gas and related by-products to markets from gas wells throughout the USA, there is a clear need for the government to take action to ensure that pipelines are built quickly, safely, and with the full engagement of all relevant stakeholders. Two things happened yesterday that aim to bring that goal closer to reality.

One was the announcement, by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, of the formation of the Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force (PITF) to help Commonwealth agencies, the natural gas industry, and communities across the state collaborate more effectively. The other was a letter, signed by ten senators, urging President Barack Obama to quickly appoint an administrator to the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) – a position vacant since former administrator Cynthia Quarterman resigned last year.

Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force

In Pennsylvania, PITF will include representatives from state agencies, the legislature, federal and local governments, the pipeline and natural gas industries and environmental groups, among others.

“We need to work with the industry to make sure that the positive economic benefits of Pennsylvania’s rich natural resources can more quickly be realized in a responsible way,” said Governor Wolf. “This taskforce is part of our commitment to seeing the natural gas industry succeed.”

John Quigley, acting secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, will serve as chairman of the task force.

The task force will aim to recommend a series of best practices for: planning, siting and routing pipelines to avoid/reduce environmental and community impacts; amplifying and engaging in meaningful public participation; maximizing opportunities for predictable and efficient permitting; employing construction methods that reduce environmental impact; and developing long-term operations and maintenance plans to ensure pipeline safety and integrity.

However, the project is not without its challenges – both for the industry and the host communities – as no single state or federal agency has sole authority.

Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration vacancy

Meanwhile, safety was the top of the agenda for ten Democrat senators who urged President Obama in a letter to “submit a nomination for PHMSA administrator as soon as practical.”

“Given PHMSA’s responsibilities of regulating approximately 2.6 million miles of pipelines that carry natural gas, crude oil, gasoline and other hazardous liquids all over our country, and the critical role the agency plays in regulating crude-by-rail, we are concerned that we still do not have a permanent administrator to lead the Agency,” the senators said.

In their letter the senators noted that they all came from states which have experienced pipeline spills and crude-by-rail accidents.

The ten Democratic senators who signed the letter are: Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota, Jon Tester, Montana; Dianne Feinstein, California; Patty Murray, Washington; Debbie Stabenow, Michigan; Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin; Maria Cantwell, Washington; Gary Peters, Michigan; Joe Manchin, Virginia; and Barbara Boxer, California.

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