Tag Archives: natural gas pipelines

2 of New Jersey’s elected officials call for gas pipeline guidelines to better protect urban areas

Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy and Rep. Albio Sires (D-13th) are calling on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to better protect highly-populated urban areas from the explosive threat of natural gas pipelines.

Arguing that PHMSA fails to safeguard densely-packed large urban populations, the officials are specifically demanding that PHMSA adopt new rules regarding the construction and operation of natural gas pipelines.

“As they presently stand, PHMSA pipeline safety regulations fall woefully short of protecting dense urban areas,” said Mayor Healy. “The agency imposes its strictest safety standards on pipelines in cities that have as few as two four-story buildings. In Jersey City, we are home to the state’s five tallest buildings and have hundreds of residential and commercial buildings well above four stories in a small geographic area which is not even contemplated by this regulatory agency.”

Under PHMSA regulations, Healy said, cities as different as Jersey City and Huntsville, Alabama, receive the same consideration for pipeline construction, even though Jersey City’s population is about 20 times larger than Huntsville.

Healy’s plea to PHMSA comes as another federal agency is considering whether to green-light a proposed natural gas pipeline that Texas-based Spectra Energy hopes to build. If approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the proposed pipeline would include 19.8 miles of new and replacement pipes, six new stations, and other related modifications in Linden, Jersey City, and Bayonne. In Jersey City, the underground pipeline route would run through nearly every municipal ward and near such sensitive areas as Jersey City Medical Center, several schools, the Holland Tunnel, the New Jersey Turnpike, and transportation infrastructure near the Jersey City-Hoboken border. Because of the pipeline’s close proximity to sensitive areas, local activists and city officials have argued that a natural gas explosion could cause mass casualties and significantly damage important transportation infrastructure.

To ensure that PHMSA’s regulations better reflect and protect urban areas the city, with the backing of Rep. Sires, has filed a petition asking PHMSA to change its pipeline safety regulations.

The city’s proposed regulatory changes include the addition of new classifications to PHMSA’s rules that reflect cities with mid-rises, high-rises and skyscrapers, and the significant increases in population density that correlate with those structures, and the development of more stringent safety standards to protect large cities.

In response to the city’s request to PHMSA, Spectra spokeswoman Marylee Hanley told the Reporter, “Spectra Energy is committed to building one of the safest natural gas pipelines in North America to help meet New Jersey and New York’s energy demands. The New York-New Jersey Expansion Project meets and often exceeds the highest federal safety requirements. For example, in several places in Jersey City we are exceeding Class 4 code – using HDD’s in the most densely populated areas to bury the pipe up to 180 feet deep, using thicker wall pipe and have added an extra mainline valve.”

But William Schulte, an attorney at Eastern Environmental Law Center who represents Jersey City’s No Gas Pipeline, said, “We often see companies claim that they are being safe and responsible because they are meeting regulatory requirements. But the fact is sometimes we see that the requirements themselves do not adequately protect public safety and welfare.

We commend Jersey City in its efforts to achieve more stringent safety standards for pipelines in ultra-dense urban areas such as Jersey City.”

SOURCE:Hudson Reporter – Healy Sires call for gas pipeline guidelines to better protect urban areas

Pipeline regulators propose broader public access

The California Public Utilities Commission on Monday proposed opening up public access to most records under the agency’s purview, a dramatic shift that would allow Californians to view documents detailing the safety records of natural-gas pipelines running under their neighborhoods.

The move comes 18 months after the explosion of a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. pipeline in San Bruno that killed eight people, and four months after a Chronicle investigation revealed that the vast majority of documents at the commission are barred from public access, including investigation reports on natural-gas pipeline accidents and safety audits of utilities such as PG&E.

The practice of shielding documents from public view spawned criticism by victims of the explosion and others, and prompted Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, to write a bill requiring such disclosure.

On Monday, Yee called the utilities commission’s proposal a “good first step.”

Terrie Prosper, a spokeswoman for the commission, said the proposed change would improve public access to records. “The public should have the widest possible access to information we possess,” she said.

In a written statement, the commission added that its public access regulations are “outdated and cumbersome, and often delay rather than facilitate access to records requested.”

A 60-page draft resolution, which the five members of the utilities commission will vote on in May, would change the agency’s rules to make documents publicly available unless a utility can show why the records should be hidden from view.

Currently, regulations require a vote of the commission before any unreleased paperwork may be made public – a vote that comes after the panel consults with utilities.

The proposal calls for automatically disclosing the outcomes of safety-related investigations and creating an online index of the commission’s available records and an online “safety portal” that houses all safety-related records.

California law now exempts the utilities commission from the state’s public records law, a contrast to other states, where such documents are routinely available.

Yee said the commission’s announcement is a good starting place but that his proposal, SB1000, should still move forward.

That legislation would repeal a 1951 state law exempting the agency from the state’s Public Records Act unless the commissioners vote to allow public access to specific documents.

“The fact that CPUC is willing to do much more than they are doing right now to be open and transparent – I think that’s a good thing,” Yee said. “But the best step is to support my bill and to pass it.”

To view the proposed regulations, go to: http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/WORD_PDF/COMMENT_RESOLUTION/162152.pdf 

SOURCE: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/03/26/BARU1NQEH0.DTL

Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission plans to expand oversight rules on natural gas pipelines

State regulators are moving toward stricter oversight of natural gas pipelines, though officials say that effort began before the Allentown explosion that killed five people one year yesterday.

“We’ve been really taking a close look, partly because of some of the tragic incidents, but also because of the expansion of Marcellus Shale in the state,” said Jennifer Kocher, spokeswoman for thePennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

The PUC is currently accepting public comment on a proposal that would require natural gas utilities to annually submit pipeline replacement and performance plans.

If the new rules — proposed on Nov. 10 — take effect, utilities with intrastate operating revenues of more than $40 million would have to file plans this spring or summer with final approval scheduled for late 2012 or early 2013.

The plans basically require utilities to submit replacement time frames for aging pipes as well as updates on damage prevention and corrosion control efforts.

The PUC said it is also enhancing “frost patrol” reviews — winter surveys that gas utilities conduct to assess how safely pipes can endure freezing temperatures — to demand more frequent and detailed updates.

The state said it regularly reviews safety protocols, though it acknowledged the Feb. 9, 2011, explosion added urgency.

The explosion, which leveled an entire block of homes on North 13th Street, is believed to have resulted from a break in a UGI Utilities natural gas main.

The PUC said a surge in natural gas drilling relating to Marcellus Shale as well as a need to bring state standards in better compliance with evolving federal regulations influenced the changes.

Reading-based UGI said it supports the state revisions. The company said it began upgrading procedures before the blast, though it admitted making further improvements, such as conducting more comprehensive leak surveys, after the explosion.

That coincides with the company’s accelerated timeframe for replacing cast-iron pipe with high-density plastic or coated steel, UGI spokesman Joseph Swope said. 

“We have been aggressive,” Swope said. “We have accelerated those plans.”

Other nearby utilities said the explosion prompted a review of safety protocols, though none said they changed policy directly because of the Allentown blast.

PECO Gas spokesman Ben Armstrong said the company, which serves Bucks, Montgomery, and other counties, spends about $80 million a year to maintain its natural gas system.

Armstrong said PECO conducts walking surveys on all transmission pipelines every two months, leak inspections every six months, and annual inspection of valves, among other reviews.

“None of the procedures were revised directly because to the incidents in Allentown or Philadelphia,” Armstrong said, referring to another explosion last year that killed a Philadelphia Gas Works employee. “We have a vigorous maintenance and inspection system in place.”

Elizabethtown Gas, a subsidiary of AGL Resources serving Warren and Hunterdon counties, said system upgrades are ongoing irrespective of the blast.

Spokesman Duane Bourne said Elizabethtown is completing a $108 million improvement plan approved by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities that would replace 70 miles of aging cast-iron pipe across its New Jersey service area. Work began in 2009.

SOURCE: http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/breaking-news/index.ssf/2012/02/pennsylvania_public_utility_co.html