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GAO says US fracking pipelines unsupervised

23 March 2012

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report on March 22 that most of the almost quarter million miles of pipelines used to carry gas recovered from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations across the country were not being regularly inspected for leaks or corrosion by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). 

Natural gas pipeline from fracking wellhead in NE Pennsylvania
Natural gas pipeline from fracking wellhead in NE Pennsylvania

According to AP, about 240,000 miles of gathering pipelines take the gas and oil to processing facilities and larger pipelines in major energy-producing states, many through densely populated areas, and in some states officials do not know where the lines are located.
Gathering lines that run in the rural northeastern corner of Pennsylvania, for example, receive no federal oversight if there are fewer than 10 homes within 220 yards of the pipeline.
Nationwide, there are about 200,000 miles of gas gathering lines and up to 40,000 miles of hazardous liquid gathering lines in rural and urban areas alike, ranging in diameter from about 2 to 12 inches. But only about 24,000 of those miles are regulated, according to the report.
The industry is not required to report pipeline-related fatality, injury or property damage information about the unregulated lines. PHMSA only collects information about accidents on the small subset of gathering lines that the agency regulates.
The pipeline agency is considering collecting more data on the unregulated gas gathering lines, but the plans are still preliminary and have met with some resistance from the natural gas industry. Agency officials are reviewing more than 100 public comments received about their proposal for gas lines, and also plan to propose a rule that will cover hazardous liquid gathering pipelines by the fall, according to a spokeswoman for the PHMSA.
Some enforcement is delegated to state-level pipeline safety authorities, who the Government Accountability Office surveyed to understand the array of risks associated with gathering lines. Those state-level agencies told the auditors that construction quality, maintenance practices, unknown locations, and limited or no information on current pipeline integrity all posed safety risks for federally unregulated gathering pipelines.
The recent surge in fracking has led lawmakers to call for new laws to increase oversight of the industry, including a growing number of calls by Democrats in Congress for the US Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the drilling industry more closely.


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