Frequently Asked Questions
- Who is responsible for the pipelines in our communities?
- What can I do to help keep pipelines in my community safe?
- How can I tell where a pipeline is located in my community?
- I have heard some pipelines are very old and some may be over 100 years old and still operating. Why doesn’t DOT require all old pipelines to be replaced?
- Are pipeline operators doing anything to educate their customers and the public on pipeline safety issues?
- What is the Department doing to provide reassurance that pipelines and communities can continue to coexist safely?
- What is a gathering pipeline?
- Who regulates gathering pipelines?
- The recent GAO report says that PHMSA has the authority to at least collect data on unregulated pipelines. Why don’t you?
- What are the concerns in regard to unregulated gathering lines?
- Are gathering lines the only pipelines PHMSA regulates?
- With the increased interest in tapping natural gas in shale deposits, won’t that mean MORE unregulated gathering lines?
- If regulation is eventually extended to all onshore gathering pipelines, who will be in charge of regulating them?
1. Who is responsible for the pipelines in our communities?
Pipelines typically operate with a network of highly skilled pipeline operations personnel. Pipeline systems are controlled and monitored 24 hours-a-day from a control center. Local or district offices are sited along the entire pipeline system and are responsible for the day-to-day operations and maintenance of the pipelines. These offices are the first to respond to abnormal conditions or emergencies should they arise.
2. What can I do to help keep pipelines in my community safe?
Please become aware of the presence of pipelines in your area. Know what to look for to recognize a pipeline emergency or unusual pipeline condition. Know what to do and who to contact in the event of a pipeline emergency.
3. How can I tell where a pipeline is located in my community?
The public can find pipeline location information one county at a time using the National Pipeline Mapping System Public Map Viewer. If you are planning to dig in your yard you should call 811, the toll-free national "call-before-you-dig" number which puts operators, homeowners, and professional excavators in contact with underground utilities they will send pipeline locators to your home to mark where the lines are in your yard. These calls are extremely important as they can help avoid pipeline failures resulting from digging which is the largest single cause of pipeline accidents.
4. I have heard some pipelines are very old and some may be over 100 years old and still operating. Why doesn’t DOT require all old pipelines to be replaced?
If pipelines are constructed and maintained correctly, the life of the pipeline is virtually endless. Pipelines are the safest, most reliable and efficient manner of transporting energy products.
5. Are pipeline operators doing anything to educate their customers and the public on pipeline safety issues?
Yes. All pipeline operators are required to develop and implement a pipeline safety public awareness program to educate the public in the vicinity of the pipeline, as well as state and local emergency response personnel, public officials and excavators. Individuals living in the vicinity of a pipeline should be updated periodically.
6. What is the Department doing to provide reassurance that pipelines and communities can continue to coexist safely?
The Department is working with the National Transportation Safety Board, the lead investigative agency—to determine what led to some recent pipeline accidents and what can be done to prevent pipeline failures.
Additionally, on April 4, 2011, U.S Department of Transportation Secretary LaHood launched a national initiative to repair and improve energy pipelines—a new pipeline safety action plan. The Department’s pipeline safety action plan addresses immediate concerns in pipeline safety, such as ensuring pipeline operators know the age and condition of their pipelines; proposing new regulations to strengthen reporting and inspection requirements; and making information about pipelines and the safety record of pipeline operators easily accessible to the public. PHMSA will also publish a final Pipeline Safety Report to the Nation later this year.
1. What is a gathering pipeline?
Gathering pipelines transport gases and liquids from the commodity’s source – like rock formations located far below the drilling site – to a processing facility, refinery or a transmission line. In the past, most gathering lines were built in minimally populated areas, used smaller-diameter pipelines that operated at lower pressures, and appeared to pose a much lower risk than for other types of pipelines. As our nation continues to grow, our populations are spreading to these once-rural locations, and an increased demand for natural resources means exploring alternate methods of producing raw materials that may come with some greater risk. Pipelines are currently still the safest means of transporting hazardous liquids and natural gas.
2. Who regulates gathering pipelines?
Both the federal government and the states have jurisdiction over gathering pipelines, which is estimated to include 240,000 miles of onshore gathering pipelines. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration regulates both natural gas gathering pipelines and hazardous liquid gathering pipelines.
3. The recent GAO report says that PHMSA has the authority to at least collect data on unregulated pipelines. Why don’t you?
We are in the process of doing just that. The Pipeline Safety Act of 1992 gave PHMSA the authority to regulate rural gas gathering lines. To exercise that authority, PHMSA had to first undergo a rulemaking process to define the terms “gathering line” and “regulated gathering line,” and take into consideration certain factors in making that decision, including the operational, functional, and specific physical characteristics of those lines.
Both the definition of a gathering pipeline and the way they are employed has changed considerably since the enactment of the Pipeline Safety Act and other federal laws that regulate pipeline facilities and pipeline operators. PHMSA recognizes that the state of onshore gathering pipeline safety is evolving, and is in the process of collecting new information about gathering pipelines in an effort to better understand the risks they may now pose to people and the environment. PHMSA recently issued two advanced notices of proposed rulemaking seeking public comment on whether it should enact regulation and require data submission similar to what is currently collected on regulated gathering pipelines.
4. What are the concerns in regard to unregulated gathering lines?
Most commonly reported concerns are with limited information about pipeline construction quality, maintenance practices, location and Pipeline Integrity Management.
5. Are gathering lines the only pipelines PHMSA regulates?
No. PHMSA regulates more than 2.6 million miles of America’s pipeline network, which includes transmission and distribution pipelines, and has been working diligently to ensure that pipelines are operating as safely as possible. Last year, PHMSA closed more than 100 enforcement cases on safety violators, the most in a single year since 2002.
The National Pipeline Mapping System
6. With the increased interest in tapping natural gas in shale deposits, won’t that mean MORE unregulated gathering lines?
PHMSA is currently considering regulating these gathering pipelines. The lines being put into service in the various shale plays like Marcellus, Utica, Barnett and Bakken are generally of much larger diameter and operating at higher pressure than traditional rural gas gathering lines, increasing the concern for safety of the environment and people near operations. Data collected about these new gathering pipelines would contribute to a body of public knowledge enabling safer and more reliable pipeline operations.
7. If regulation is eventually extended to all onshore gathering pipelines, who will be in charge of regulating them?
Most onshore gathering pipelines begin and end in the same state. While PHMSA is responsible for conducting inspections on pipelines that cross state boundaries, individual states’ certified pipeline safety agencies govern lines that do not. When intrastate pipelines are regulated by these agencies through adoption and enforcement of PHMSA safety standards, PHMSA's role is to oversee state agency performance. The state maintains direct regulatory authority.