A major challenge to pipeline infrastructure is that no single authority has oversight on development. Regulations that govern pipelines are split between state and federal agencies depending on where they are located and what they carry. Focusing on natural gas transportation through pipelines in Pennsylvania, there are separate categories of regulations that can govern intrastate and interstate pipelines.
Intrastate pipelines, limited to the boundaries within a given state, account for roughly 29 percent of the total miles of natural gas pipelines in the U.S. (“Intrastate”, n.d.) Regulation of intrastate pipelines is the responsibility of state agencies. However, state regulations are decentralized, which means a number of agencies become involved instead of one agency overseeing pipeline development. This complicates understanding who is responsible because each pipeline is different and has a different set of regulatory requirements according to their location.
Generally, regulations can be broken down into two categories, construction and operation. Intrastate construction regulators include state EPA or DEP depending on where the pipeline is. For example, the DEP would be involved and would issue permits if the pipeline crossed waterways or would impact endangered species. Different agencies may have to provide permits before construction can begin, such as the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Game Commission or Historic Museum Commission. The chart below is an example of some of the different permits and approvals needed for the construction of the Constitution Pipeline Project in Pennsylvania. These clearances may include water quality certification, erosion and sediment control permits, rare species clearances, or submerged land license agreement.
Once a pipeline is in operation, in PA, the Department of Transportation is responsible for safety and security regulations for intrastate pipelines. This is typically handled through the Public Utility Commission (PUC) who must inspect and monitor operations. In Pennsylvania Act 127, known as “The Pipeline Act,” all classifications of pipelines may be regulated by the state PUC except for the exempted Class 1 gathering lines (“Act 127”, n.d.). Class 1 gathering lines are those that are located in the most rural areas, with less than 10 buildings located within 220 yards of a pipeline (“Regulation”, 2013). This act developed a registry of all pipelines by documenting location, miles, sizes, pressures, and operators. However, Class 1 gathering lines remain unregulated, with no standards for construction or safety needing to be met (“Regulation”, 2013).
Interstate pipeline safety regulations follow the same procedure as intrastate pipelines as the state PUC takes on all pipeline safety regulations. However, the pre-operation and construction regulations for interstate pipelines are much different.
The major difference with interstate pipelines is that there is a single agency responsible for the decision for a pipeline’s construction. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the government agency developed in 1977 under the Department of Energy Organization Act, has jurisdiction over regulating interstate pipelines (“The Market”, 2013). Section 7 of the Natural Gas Act tasks FERC with reviewing pipeline infrastructure applications and issuing certificates of public necessity and convenience for interstate pipeline construction (“FERC”, 2013). A major source of contention over FERC’s power is that once a certificate of necessity and convenience is issued, the pipeline company has the right to eminent domain, where the government has the right to expropriate private property for public use with compensation to the owner.
Before FERC issues a certificate they must assess the environmental impacts of the proposed pipeline and they must discover and address the public’s concerns over said pipeline. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires FERC to put together an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or an Environmental Assessment (EA), depending on which way the company chooses to file. An expedited ‘pre-filing’ option is available for companies willing to engage stakeholders early on in the process in hopes of a quicker formal application process. However, this can mean instead of a thorough EIS, a cursory EA is drafted. Environmental impacts of pipeline construction, operation, and maintenance on things like soil, water sources, wildlife, and cultural resources must be discussed in order to avoid damage and define alternatives in the pipeline’s route (Rigney, 2015).