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PA PUC Opens Rulemaking Process for Long-Awaited Pipeline Regulations

Two years after Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission announced plans to review and possibly update regulations on natural gas pipelines in the Commonwealth, the Public Utility Commission has officially opened the rulemaking process.

The series of proposed regulations are fairly comprehensive, and cover major systems and processes related to pipeline development. The full list of proposed changes can be found on the PUC’s official release, but include the adoption of 10 new headings within Chapter 59 of the PA Code which include: accident reporting; construction, operation and maintenance, and other reports; design requirements, construction; horizontal directional drilling and trenchless technology’ pressure testing; operation and maintenance; qualification of pipeline personnel; land agents; and, corrosion control.

Many of the proposed rules stem from issues related to Sunoco’s Mariner East pipeline projects that have caused numerous major accidents during its lengthy and delayed construction. Such incidents include the creation of sinkholes, gas leaks, explosions that have cost Sunoco millions of dollars in fines. Most recently, the Chester County commissioners asked the PUC to shut down the operation as more sinkholes have opened.

In the PUC’s Notice for Proposed Rulemaking Order, the Commission shared comments from 93 individuals or entities with conflicting opinions on the proposal. Among the advocates were individual citizens and organizations, such as Bucks County Concerned Citizens Against the Pipelines, the Clean Air Council, and the Responsible Drilling Alliance. These parties “generally seek strengthened pipeline infrastructure and pipeline integrity” citing various issues from pipeline development such as “spills, leaks, sinkholes, and private well contamination” as reasons to adopt the proposed rules into state law.

On the contrary, the natural gas and energy industry has submitted comments opposing the adoption. According to a release from the PUC, they state that “Pennsylvania’s energy success relies on increased pipeline construction”, arguing that pipelines are the “safest and most reliable mode of energy transportation” and that “new pipeline regulations will result in increased inefficiencies”. Additionally, industry representatives assert that the PUC should “defer to existing federal regulations” rather than adding to state law. They also argue that though the states have the ability to add to existing federal pipeline regulations, all new regulation must be consistent and compatible with the federal regulations from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

Pennsylvania is among the collection of states who have been granted permission to handle enforcement activities by PHMSA, which provides federal oversight of all pipeline development nationwide. However, the PUC also has the power to implement more stringent standards on the construction, operation and maintenance of pipelines crossing the Commonwealth.

With the PUC formally publishing the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Pennsylvania Bulletin a 60-day public comment period has begun. Citizens with opinions on the proposed rulemaking should be encouraged to submit comments to the PUC.

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