PUC enforcement

The PUC is asking for public input on its regulation of pipeline safety. The deadline for comments is August 28.

You can read the PUC’s press release on the topic here, and the more detailed formal statement is here. As comments are submitted, they will be posted here. (As of July 20, 11 comments have already been posted.)

The request for comments is so broad as to be overwhelming for most people. I expect Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety to draft a comprehensive response within a week or so, and they will be asking other organizations to provide input and to be co-signatories. I will provide a link to that document in a blog post, once it becomes available. It will be a good source for ideas about comments that individuals may want to submit.

In the meantime, I have written this post as an aid to those who want to go ahead and submit a comment now. Below, I have provided the list of all 21 topics the PUC is asking for comments on, each followed by some questions to ask yourself if you are considering drafting a response. It’s not likely that any one person will want to comment on all the topics—you’ll probably want to pick a few that you consider particularly important.

Also note that these 21 topics are not exclusive: the PUC notes that “the Commission does not intend to limit the scope of comments to these subject areas. We intend that the identified subject areas be used as starting points for detailed comments. … we encourage comments on any and all topics…” as long as they fall within the PUC’s current or potential legal responsibility.

At the end of the PUC topic list, I have added several additional areas for potential comment that are not among those that the PUC has specifically mentioned.

Here, then, is the PUC’s list of areas for comment. I have changed the sequence in order to organize them into rough categories (at the suggestion of Caroline Hughes and Don Vymazal). That should make them a little easier to deal with.

Construction and new uses:

  • Pipeline material and specification: Are the specifications for pipeline materials, including coatings, sufficient?
  • Cover over buried pipelines: Are the burial requirements for new pipelines (3 or 4 feet, depending on location) sufficient? Should these requirements apply to old pipelines when they are repurposed? To all old pipelines that are still in use? Should pipelines with more dangerous content have deeper coverage requirements?
  • Underground clearances: Should there be a required spacing between pipelines? Should the spacing be greater when one (or both) pipes carry highly volatile materials?
  • Valves: Should valves be closer together in densely populated areas? Should remotely operated valves be required? Should above-ground valves be protected by vehicle-proof barriers?
  • Pipeline conversion: When pipelines are converted to a new use (new contents or flow reversal) should they meet the standards and permitting processes for new construction?
  • Construction compliance: Should the presence of a PUC inspector be required to observe repair, filling, or stabilization anytime an active line carrying highly volatile materials is exposed? Should approval by the PUC pipeline construction processes and routes be required prior to construction? Should reports by independent third-party inspectors be required, to show that actual construction followed the approved plan?
  • Pressure testing and maximum operating pressure: Should maximum pressure be limited to the manufacturer’s specified maximum, less a safety margin? Should this limitation apply to old pipes begin converted to a new use? Should residents be alerted about upcoming pressure testing? Should they be told how to identify the dyes being used in pressure testing? Should the operator offer immediate, no-cost testing for dye at a third-party lab of water samples collected by residents during pressure testing?
  • Emergency flow restricting devices: In addition to standard valves, should additional emergency check valves (to prevent materials from flowing backward to the leak site in case of a leak) be required between standard valve sites in densely populated areas?
  • Regulation of construction techniques such as horizontal directional drilling: Should operators be required to specify how corrosion and cracks will be identified, monitored, controlled, and remediated in pipelines installed using HDD (given that cathodic protection doesn’t work deep underground)? If HDD is proposed in a residential area, should plans for IR containment, noise abatement, and dust control be provided and made available to the public, and must these plans specify what levels are considered “acceptable” by the operator?
  • Protection of public and private water wells and supplies: Should testing of public and private wells (a) within 500 feet of pipeline construction and (b) within a mile in the direction of water movement in an aquifer be mandatory before and after construction, unless the owner refuses? Should subsequent annual well testing for at least 10 years also be required? Should the required tests include drilling fluid components as well as bacteriological contaminants? Should the tests include the presence of potentially toxic materials suspected to be in the soils the construction crosses?
  • Land agents and eminent domain: These are two separate topics. Should land agents be licensed and should they have their license revoked if they have used illegal or unauthorized methods to secure an easement or have lied to landowners? In eminent domain cases, should the operator be required to demonstrate, in a public hearing, that the project is primarily for the benefit of the public? Should those whose land is threatened with taking be given a public hearing before a PUC judge?
  • Integration of new regulations on existing facilities: Whenever major changes are proposed, such as change of content, reversal, or change of operating pressure, should the pipeline be required to meet the latest regulations for new construction?

Pipeline operations and maintenance:

  • Line markers: Should lines carrying highly volatile liquids be identified by markers that specify “highly-volatile liquids”?
  • Inspections of pipeline rights of way: Should the operator’s inspection records be open to the public, so that dates, locations, and measured values can be reviewed?
  • Leak detection: Should operators be required to install equipment capable of detecting a leak of less than 1% of the material flowing through a highly volatile liquids line? Should these systems include sirens and strobe lights to warn the public of a leak?
  • Corrosion control and cathodic protection: Should records of cathodic protection inspections be open to the public? Should the data from in-line inspections (“pig runs”) be available to the public? Should the establish rules that specify what types of pig runs are required for various pipelines and conditions? In the case of pipelines installed via HDD, should the operator be required to specify how cathodic protection will be maintained and monitored deep underground; or, if that is not possible, how underground corrosion will be prevented?
  • Accident and incident reporting criteria: Must every release of highly volatile liquid be reported, regardless of size, including releases on operator-owned property?

Informing the public and miscellaneous:

  • Utility interactions with local government officials: Should there be regularly scheduled meetings, at least annually, with local government officials? Should there be a direct contact channel to alert local emergency responders immediately in case of a leak? In case of a release of an HVL, including releases on operator-owned property, should local emergency officials be notified immediately?
  • Requirements for periodic public awareness meetings: Should operators be required to hold regularly scheduled, well-publicized public meetings in each county where they operate?
  • Pennsylvania specific enhancements to utility public awareness programs: Should everyone residing within the blast radius for a rupture receive annual notification of that fact?
  • Background investigations of employees and contractors: For personnel that will be in touch with the public or will be working within view of private homes, should background checks for previous criminal records be performed?

Other topics, not specifically mentioned by the PUC, that I think are important:

  • Separate, stricter regulations for highly volatile liquids. Current regulations typically classify all hazardous liquids, from fuel oil to compressed ethane, together in common regulations. Should HVLs have separate, stricter regulations?
  • Siting requirements. The courts have indicated that the PUC does have pipeline siting authority, although it has opted not to use it. Should pipeline routes and siting be subject a PUC approval process with public involvement?
  • Project-based permitting. Currently, public utility status is determined by “Certificates of Public Convenience” that are county-wide, that never expire, and that can be extended to entirely new uses. Instead of these Certificates, should pipeline permits be limited to a specific pipeline project and be required anew for each new use (reversal, change in content, increase in operating pressure, etc.)?
  • Insurance requirements. Should pipeline companies be required to make public their insurance coverage for accidental deaths, injuries, and property damage? Should they be required to show that their insurance coverage will be adequate for a worst-case rupture in a worst-case location?
  • Disclosure of all drilling fluid components. Since drilling fluid can enter local aquifers and wells, should the public be able to get a list of all drilling fluid components?
  • Real estate transaction disclosure requirements. Should people purchasing homes in the blast zone be informed of that fact by the operator, before they buy?
  • Compensation for loss of real estate value. Should the pipeline operator be required to compensate residents who sell property in the blast zone at a loss?
  • Difficulty of defending against pipeline company misdeeds via the PUC. Currently, members of the public must either hire a legal team or learn the details of the law themselves in order to hold a pipeline company to account before the PUC. Should there be a separate, fair, and affordable process that puts the public on an even footing with the pipeline company?
  • High cost of PUC hearing transcripts. Should members of the public be able to purchase PDFs of PUC hearing transcripts at nominal (or no) cost? (These “public” documents currently cost hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars.)

How to respond: To send your comments to the PUC, you will need to create an account. It takes only a few minutes to do. You have to fill out an on-line form, providing your name, address, email address, phone number, and password of your choice. The link to create the account is here:


Alternatively, you can use the US Postal Service. Send your comment to:

Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission
Attn: Secretary Rosemary Chiavetta
400 North Street
Harrisburg, PA 17120

In either case, be sure to mention Docket number L-2019-3010267 in your comments.