Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission Chairman Gladys Brown is requesting more state and federal dollars to ramp up pipeline safety efforts. In a testimony made before the Pennsylvania Senate Appropriations Committee, Chairman Brown requested $81.08 million in funding for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, an increase of $1.36 million from the previous fiscal year.
In her testimony, Chairman Brown stated her intent to bolster natural gas pipeline safety through the hiring of at least four additional natural gas safety inspectors to the current roster of fifteen inspectors. Currently, these fifteen natural gas safety inspectors bear the responsibility of monitoring 48,100 miles of distribution and transmission lines in the Commonwealth. Of the 47,000 miles of distribution line, Chairman Brown notes that 11,000 miles of the pipeline are of “at-risk” status, meaning they are “comprised of unprotected steel and cast-iron lines”. The fifteen current gas safety inspectors conducted 1,161 individual inspections in the 2018 calendar year, about 77 per inspector. The additional four inspectors would drive individual inspections to approximately 61 inspections per inspector based on the 2018 inspection count figures.
As often noted, pipeline safety has been prioritized by Pennsylvanians in recent years due to numerous pipeline emergencies in the Commonwealth. It’s reported that many PUC commissioners asked questions regarding the highly controversial Mariner East pipeline projects and its plethora of regulatory violations as being the catalyst of the budget request. Questions still lie regarding the pipeline industry’s role and aptitude in public safety efforts. This effort is one of many in recent months to increase safety and accountability of the pipeline and natural gas industry in the state.