Contrary to popular belief, not all oil and gas pipelines are strictly regulated. In fact, pipelines classified as “gathering” pipelines, which transport gas from well fields to transmission lines, often face less strict safety rules. And depending on how rural their location, such pipelines might not be regulated at all.
Federal regulators are trying to put an end to that. Congress is pushing to extend safety regulations to the more than 200,000 miles of gathering lines in rural areas across the country. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who oversees the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), said, “Someone has to have some enforcement over [the lines], some oversight on construction and safety – but also transparency, so people in these communities know when a pipeline is going through their front yard.”
Because when pipelines are unregulated, and people don’t know about them, tragedies occur.
An increasing number of pipelines were originally installed in rural areas, but as the pipelines age, the communities grow – moving in on top of the unmarked lines, unaware that the gathering lines are even present until they rupture. In the last few years, several pipelines have exploded in Texas and Oklahoma, killing workers and burning a woman in her home.
Two men were digging up clay from a pit for a dirt-contracting company near Darrouzett, Texas, when their bulldozer struck a 14-inch pipeline, causing the gas line to explode and kill two workers and injure another three. The workers never knew the pipeline was there.
Until new standards are established that apply to all pipelines throughout the nation – regardless of whether they are gathering lines or where they are located – fatal accidents involving unmarked and unregulated pipelines will continue to occur.
Related resource: Philadelphia Inquirer, “Similar Pipes, Different Rules,” 12/11/11.