Casey Urges PA Natural Gas Pipeline Safety

WASHINGTON, DC— U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) today sent a letter to a federal regulator calling for an assessment of natural gas pipelines in Pennsylvania, an explanation of reports of a shortage of inspectors and urging that an inspector training facility be established in Pennsylvania.  Senator Casey sent the letter to Cynthia Quarterman, Administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, in response to recent incidents involving natural gas pipelines.

“I have grave concerns that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has not allocated enough staff resources required to inspect and maintain pipelines properly and does not have adequate staff training facilities,” wrote Senator Casey.  “I am concerned about both the aging pipeline infrastructure and the new, expanding infrastructure resulting from Marcellus Shale development.  It is critical that sufficient resources are dedicated to caring for the entire pipeline transportation system.”

As part of the northeast corridor natural gas pipeline system, Pennsylvania has 7,500 miles of interstate pipelines.  There are also 63,000 miles of intrastate transmission and distribution pipelines in Pennsylvania.  

Increased natural gas extraction from drilling in the Marcellus Shale combined with the recent natural gas explosion in California and an oil pipeline spill in Michigan raise serious concerns about the integrity of the pipeline system in Pennsylvania.     

Senator Casey sent a copy of the letter to James H. Cawley, Chairman of Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission who also has oversight over pipelines in Pennsylvania.  The full text of Senator Casey’s letter is below:


September 22, 2010

Dear Administrator Quarterman:

Pennsylvania is an integral part of the northeast interstate pipeline system, with more than 7,500 miles of interstate pipeline crisscrossing the state.  In addition, there are 63,000 miles of intrastate transmission and distribution pipelines in the state.  This infrastructure moves and delivers enormous volumes of natural gas and other petroleum products to homes, farms, schools, businesses and industries throughout Pennsylvania.

I have grave concerns that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has not allocated enough staff resources required to inspect and maintain pipelines properly and does not have adequate staff training facilities.  I am committed to working with you to ensure that all people living near pipelines are safe in their communities.  Recent events have made it all too clear what is at stake when pipelines are not properly inspected and maintained.  The natural gas pipeline explosion in California took the lives of at least four people, destroyed dozens of homes, and caused tens of millions of dollars in damages.  The oil pipeline spill in Michigan polluted two rivers with over one million gallons of oil.  These events remind all of us just how vulnerable our national system of gas and oil pipelines is and how critical the Federal inspection of this system is to protecting American lives and property.

While my most immediate concern is about the safety of Pennsylvanians, any disruption in the delivery of natural gas due to a pipeline rupture, explosion or other accident would also have major ramifications on the ability of Pennsylvanians to heat their homes as more than half of Pennsylvania households rely on natural gas heating.  Supply disruption would be disastrous for businesses and industries and for the jobs that they provide.  As an example, the Michigan pipeline spill resulted in a disruption of supplies to United Refining, a Warren, Pennsylvania refinery that provides gasoline to more than 300 filling stations in the northwest corner of the state.  In other words, a pipeline disruption would have severe and far reaching impacts on local communities beyond the loss of life and property.

As a U.S. Senator from a state with a major interstate and intrastate pipeline infrastructure, I am extremely concerned about the integrity and safety of this system.  In light of this concern, I respectfully request that you provide me with an assessment of the adequacy of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s staff, resources and programs to inspect the 7,500 miles of interstate pipeline in Pennsylvania.  Should you feel that the current staffing levels are not adequate to carry out PHMSA’s mission of ensuring the safe, reliable and environmentally sound operation of the Nation’s pipeline transportation system, I ask that you provide an assessment of what additional resources are needed.

With regard to pipeline inspection, I request that you consider the establishment of a pipeline inspector training and certification center in Pennsylvania.  It is my understanding that the nearest training center is located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and only has the capability to accommodate twenty-three inspectors during each certification class.   Establishing another training center in the eastern United States, such as in Pennsylvania, would certainly help to train and certify the additional inspectors needed in order to meet an increasing workload.  I am concerned about both the aging pipeline infrastructure and the new, expanding infrastructure resulting from Marcellus Shale development.  It is critical that sufficient resources are dedicated to caring for the entire pipeline transportation system.

I appreciate the work of your agency in overseeing and maintaining the safety of our national interstate pipeline system.  I look forward to hearing from you as to how your resources and staff match up with the task at hand, particularly in light of the significant growth of the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania.   


Sincerely,

Robert P. Casey, Jr.             
United States Senator


cc: James H. Cawley, Chairman, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission

                                                                        
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