GAO Investigation Finds Lack of Federal Oversight of Gas Pipelines

A recent report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the federal government is largely ignorant of the condition of thousands of miles of natural gas pipelines crisscrossing the nation.

While the United States Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration regulates about 24,000 miles of large pipelines that carry natural gas from processing plants across the nation, it is largely unaware of the condition of 200,000 miles of natural gas and 40,000 miles of hazardous liquid gathering pipes.

Gathering pipelines collect natural gas and hazardous materials from locations across the country and deposit them at processing facilities. These types of pipelines are much less likely to be regulated by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Pipeline Regulation in the Marcellus Shale Formation

A close-to-home example of the need to reform pipeline regulation can be found in the Marcellus Shale formation that lies beneath most of northern and western Pennsylvania, including the Pittsburgh area. The pipelines that run natural gas to and from the northeastern part of this area are not regulated unless a pipeline happens to be within 220 yards of ten or more homes. If a pipeline is less than 220 yards from fewer than ten homes, it remains unregulated, posing risks to residents in the event of a leak, gas explosion or other incident.

When pipelines are left unregulated, companies are not required by law to report issues concerning the pipelines to the government, including deaths or injuries sustained while working on or near the pipelines, or property damage caused by the pipelines. Without this essential data, it is impossible for the government to assess the health and safety risks these pipelines pose to the public and take action to make them safer and more secure.

Recommendations

The GAO recommends that states share information on what they have found to be effective ways to keep the public safe in the presence of gas pipelines, which will help establish best practices for pipeline regulation. It also encourages the government to gather information on the unregulated pipelines and use the data to compile a database for sharing resources among states.

When the majority of the nation's pipelines are left unregulated, the public is left in harm's way. State and federal agencies and lawmakers should work together to find a solution that ensures all pipelines are inspected. Meanwhile, personal injury and workers' compensation lawsuits are some of the only ways to hold these companies accountable when they cut corners regarding safety. If you or a loved one has been injured by a gas pipeline, please consult an experienced personal injury attorney.