Senator Casey, who toured the site of the disaster in Allentown today, raised concerns about pipeline safety in a September 2010 letter to PHMSA in response to pipeline disasters across the country and increased natural gas extraction in Pennsylvania from drilling in Marcellus Shale.
In his letter today, Senator Casey noted that the tragedy in Allentown is the latest in a long list of natural-gas-line related accidents in the Lehigh Valley in the last decade. Senator Casey also expressed his concern that current pipeline safety programs are underfunded.
“I am very concerned that PHMSA’s grants program that assists state agencies like the PAPUC in carrying out pipeline safety programs, including the cost of personnel and equipment, is underfunded,” wrote Senator Casey.
The full text of the letter is below.
Dear Administrator Quarterman:
I am writing to you in the aftermath of another natural gas line explosion. As you know, on Wednesday evening a gas line erupted in Allentown, Pennsylvania claiming the lives five people including a four-month old baby. Over 600 hundred people were evacuated from their homes, with no immediate timetable for when they can all return. This is another in a long list of natural-gas-line related accidents in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania in the last decade.
This tragic event again underscores the concerns I raised in a September 22, 2010 letter to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) about the safety of both our interstate and intrastate pipeline systems. There are more than 7,500 miles of interstate and 63,000 miles of intrastate transmission and distribution pipelines crisscrossing Pennsylvania. This infrastructure moves and delivers enormous volumes of gas to homes, farms, schools, businesses and industries throughout the state.
I realize that the tragic event in Allentown falls under the regulatory jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission (PAPUC), which has responsibility for the inspection and safety of our intrastate gas distribution lines. However, I continue to be concerned that the PHMSA has not allocated sufficient staff and resources to inspect and maintain the 7,500 miles of interstate pipelines that feed natural gas into Pennsylvania’s intrastate distribution system.
Moreover, I am very concerned that PHMSA’s grants program that assists state agencies in carrying out pipeline safety programs, including covering the cost of personnel and equipment, is underfunded. The partnerships that the PHMSA creates under the grants program – including the sharing of best management practices -- are essential to the ability of state agencies to adequately inspect, identify, and remediate unsafe intrastate pipeline systems.
I strongly urge PHMSA to ensure it has sufficient funding and staffing levels to adequately inspect the Nation’s interstate gas pipelines, particularly with regards to its interconnection with Pennsylvania’s intrastate pipeline system. Furthermore, PHMSA’s state grants program is invaluable to Pennsylvania in that it provides additional funding for PAPUC to carry out its pipeline inspection and safety program. As such, the grants program is critical to averting such tragic events as the one in Allentown and previous gas line explosions in the Lehigh Valley. For these reasons, I request that PHMSA dedicate a more substantial portion of its budget to this program.
I look forward to your response regarding this very important matter to communities throughout Pennsylvania.
Robert P. Casey, Jr.
United States Senator