Federal and State Responsibilities
Both federal and state agencies regulate pipelines across the United States. Interstate pipelines are managed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regulates pipelines, storage, natural gas transportation in interstate commerce, and liquefied natural gas facility construction. It also oversees operation of pipeline facilities at U.S. points of entry for natural gas imports and exports and analyzes environmental impacts of natural gas projects.
Once natural gas pipeline projects are operating, the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA), acting through the Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS), regulates, monitors and enforces safety. The OPS collaborates with partnering agencies and departments to ensure pipeline operation safety, security, monitoring and compliance. As of June 2010, 88 full-time PHMSA pipeline inspectors were employed to conduct the comprehensive OPS inspection and enforcement program to ensure that pipeline operators comply with all safety regulations.
Although the federal government is responsible for developing, issuing and enforcing pipeline safety regulations, most inspections are conducted by state regulatory agencies, which are responsible for regulation, inspection and enforcement of pipelines within state boundaries. The state agency regulations must be at least as stringent as the federal regulations. Many states experience more pipeline-related incidents than others, however, and may wish to consider strengthening their oversight standards.
OPS or PHMSA certifies state agencies annually to perform their regulatory duties, and OPS also can authorize states to inspect interstate pipelines, although it retains enforcement responsibilities. Arizona, Connecticut, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Washington and West Virginia are authorized to act as interstate agents.
Recent accidents and increasing dependence on U.S. natural gas supplies have sharpened concern for pipeline security and safety. After a natural gas pipeline explosion in California in September 2010, state lawmakers discussed changing state law to increase oversight of natural gas pipelines during a legislative hearing in October 2010. Several incidents in Pennsylvania raise questions about the safety of the nation’s massive, aging infrastructure. Investigators are seeking the exact trigger of the most recent explosion and at least three pending pieces of legislation in Pennsylvania (HB 102, SB 325 and HB 344) would provide for civil penalties for gas pipeline safety violations and regulation of certain operators.
Alaska and Hawaii are the only states completely regulated by OPS. This chart outlines which state agencies regulate interstate and intrastate gas and hazardous liquid pipelines.
PHMSA recently released a report that includes 56 recommendations to guide key stakeholders such as local government, property owners, pipeline operators, and real estate commissions on how to improve their safety efforts. The report "Partnering to Further Enhance Pipeline Safety In Communities Through Risk-Informed Land Use Planning Final Report of Recommended Practices November 2010" focuses on transparency and information-sharing.