Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” for natural gas is taking off, but federal officials say that of 240,000 miles of U.S. gas lines only about 24,000 miles are regulated.
Of the 240,000 miles worth of lines, 40,000 ranging in diameter from 2-12 inches carry hazardous liquid and traverse rural and urban areas, often buried out of sight where corrosion could set in without anyone knowing it.
This report comes via the Government Accountability Office that notes the majority of lines are not inspected or made to meet regulations by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
Of the lines, some oversight is delegated to state-level agencies, and these agencies have been reporting that they have concerns about unknown pipe locations, construction quality, maintenance practices and current pipeline integrity for the unregulated gas lines.
Fracking has been presented as a boon to jobs, the economy, and energy sector, but reports surrounding regional epicenters of natural gas extraction have some people with their eyes on the issues nonetheless worried – beyond already existing concerns about fracking.
In Pennsylvania, near the Marcellus Shale formation, the law says no state oversight is needed if fewer than 10 homes are sited within 220 yards of a pipeline. Resident watchdogs have expressed concerns in incredulous tones that pipes can be strung relatively close to homes without any official oversight.
Similarly, in Fort Worth, dozens of new gathering lines have been put down in recent years to service hundreds of new wells, and USA Today reports some residents say there aren’t enough protections from leaks and ruptures due to corrosion.
Regarding gas lines, PHMSA collects only accident-related info on the few lines that it regulates. Regarding unregulated lines, the gas industry is not required to report pipeline-related fatalities, injuries, or property damage.
Some might say those in the gas industry laying down the lines would want to self-regulate to one degree or another, as they have a vested interest to not see anything go awry.
But preliminary plans the PHMSA has considered to collect more data in coming years have reportedly met at least some resistance from the natural gas industry. Where it is all going as more lines are installed is not at this juncture clear.
Among those at the state level expressing concerns, California state Assemblyman Bill Wieckowski, D-Fremont, said he would like to legislate practices to ensure greater peace of mind.
“If we’re on this cusp of a boom then maybe we at the very least need to know where these lines are,” Wieckowski said.
Wieckowski has a sponsored bill now pending before a state Senate committee to require gas and oil producers to disclose what chemicals they are using in the process of their extracting gas during the process of hydraulic fracturing.