WEST CHESTER (July 16, 2021) – Persistent efforts by state Senator Carolyn Comitta and others to enhance pipeline safety in Pennsylvania took a major step forward as the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) advanced important new regulations governing everything from pipeline design and construction to operations and maintenance, accident reporting, testing, personnel qualifications, and more.
“Today is a turning point in our efforts to boost pipeline safety standards in Pennsylvania and ensure that we have stronger rules in place to protect communities, residents, and families,” Comitta said. “This has been the product of years of collaboration and discussion among multiple stakeholders, including input from residents, pipeline safety groups, industry representatives, the PUC, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, emergency response officials, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, state and federal lawmakers, local municipalities, and the Chester County Association of Township Officials. As a result of our determination and hard work, we are now on track to enact stronger pipeline safety rules – rules that better protect the health, safety and well-being of every Pennsylvanian.”
The Commission voted unanimously to adopt a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding regulations related to the pipeline transport of petroleum products and hazardous liquids in intrastate commerce – seeking public comment on proposed amendments to existing regulations along with the addition of new regulations.
The proposed rulemaking would create a new heading within Chapter 59 of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s regulations (52 Pa. Code) to encompass “Hazardous Liquid Public Utility Safety Standards.”
The new sections for hazardous liquids utilities include the following:
- Accident reporting
- Construction, operation and maintenance, and other reports
- Design requirements
- Horizontal directional drilling and trenchless technology
- Pressure testing
- Operation and maintenance
- Qualification of pipeline personnel
- Land agents
- Corrosion control
The proposed rulemaking follows the PUC review and analysis of more than 90 comments, ranging in size from one-page resolutions to submissions that spanned hundreds of pages of documentation. Public input also included comments from community advocates and citizens’ organizations, along with local governments, industry affiliates, members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly and concerned citizens.
Additionally, the proposed rulemaking would revise the existing “Service and Facilities” heading for certain sections of Chapter 59 (59.11 through 59.38) to clarify that those sections apply only to natural gas public utilities – addressing matters related to hazardous liquids public utility service in the newly created sections of the regulations.
Comitta noted that the lack of pipeline safety regulations in Pennsylvania was brought to the forefront by ongoing problems with the Mariner East pipeline project, which has resulted in numerous geological issues and public safety concerns, not to mention dozens of DEP violations and fines, in recent years.
Seeing a need to bring various stakeholders together, she began convening regular multi-stakeholder pipeline safety meetings in the early spring of 2017, just before construction of the Mariner East project began. These meetings are some of the only of their kind taking place in Pennsylvania.
“We saw an opportunity to improve the process,” she said. “We knew we could do better, and we wanted to bring everyone to the table.”
Comitta and other lawmakers have also attempted to advance stronger rules through the legislative process. Currently, she has introduced Senate Bill 494, legislation that calls for establishing a pipeline safety and communication board, very similar to the multi-stakeholder meetings she has established. The board would be responsible for considering the overarching issue of public safety and for implementing and coordinating the timely communication of information regarding pipeline activities.
In addition, she has introduced Senate Bill 518, legislation that better protects residents by providing oversight of the eminent domain process used by public utility corporations for pipeline construction. The bill would prohibit petroleum or petroleum product transportation lines from being located within 100 meters of a residence that is not located within the limits of any street, highway, water, or other public way or place. In addition, it would require public utility corporations to receive approval from the PUC using eminent domain to obtain property to construct a pipeline.
Currently, Pennsylvania lacks regulations governing the siting (placement) of intrastate pipelines. While pipelines that cross state lines must be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), intrastate pipelines in Pennsylvania only face siting regulations when their route crosses a stream or wetland. As a result, unfortunately, many Pennsylvania residents and their families whose homes and land are located in the path of a proposed pipeline, have little or no recourse but to allow a pipeline’s siting and subsequent construction to proceed due to eminent domain.
While pipeline-related bills have historically faced obstacles and challenges in the legislature, Comitta and others continued to work through the PUC to pursue stronger safety rules.
“That’s why it was so important that we kept working through the regulatory process at the same time,” she said. “It’s a lengthy process, but we had to stick with it because in addition to the pipeline projects we’re are dealing with now, more are on the way. The proposed rulemaking helps us plan for and ensure a safer future for our children and grandchildren.”
Interested parties may submit written comments within 60 days from the date the NOPR is published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, and reply comments should be submitted within 30 days of the initial comment period.
Comments shall be submitted via the PUC’s efiling system, referencing Docket No. L-2019-3010267. All filings are to be made by e-filing or by electronic mail. Information about creating a free PUC efiling account and accessing the efiling system is available on the Commission’s website at: www.puc.pa.gov/filing-resources/efiling/