This is an update to a previous post from last August. After a long delay, we are finally in the public-comment period for some important changes to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) regulations.

The PUC is reconsidering its rules for pipeline safety, and it’s high time. The existing regulations lump natural gas pipelines together with “hazardous liquids” pipelines (like Mariner East), resulting in regulations that are often inappropriate for the products involved; and some serious issues are completely missed. The PUC wants your comments on the changes, and I strongly encourage you to submit them. Instructions are at the end of this post.

The new proposal. Back in June of 2019, the PUC issued an “Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” inviting comments on how to amend the regulations in Chapter 59 of Title 52 of the PA statues (you can read about that here). That is the section that deals with pipeline safety. Now, two and half years later, the PUC is ready to make some serious changes, based on the outpouring of comments it received back then.

The PUC’s proposed changes are contained in two documents: a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” (NOPR) and the draft wording of the new regulations. The public is now invited to comment again, this time in response to the actual proposals in the PUC’s new documents.

In what follows, I will summarize what I see as the important points in the documents, so that you get a sense of what the PUC has in mind. I will focus on the NOPR.

The NOPR is 30 pages long. The first four pages provide the legal and regulatory context.

The PUC got lots of comments. Pages 5-13 of the NOPR are a summary of all the comments the PUC received in response to its 2019 “Notice”. There are comments from six advocacy organizations (the PUC calls them “advocates”), including the Clean Air Council and DelChesco United for Pipeline Safety. In addition, the PUC’s own Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement submitted comments.

Sixteen local government entities, including various townships, counties, and school districts submitted comments. Five legislators (Committa, Otten, Dinniman, Schwank, and Killion) submitted comments. Additionally, 51 individual residents submitted their comments.

There were, of course, comments from the pipeline industry and its allies as well. These 16 organizations included various oil and gas associations, the steamfitters union, business groups, and Sunoco itself.

Readers of this blog will already be very familiar with the arguments on both sides. The industry thinks current regulations are just fine; almost everyone else thinks they are woefully inadequate.

The proposed new structure for regulations. To address the special aspects of hazardous liquids pipelines, the PUC’s proposal separates the regulations for those pipelines from the existing regulations governing natural gas pipelines. This results in a new heading within Chapter 59 called “Hazardous Liquid Public Utility Safety Standards.” Under it are 13 new sections:

  • 59.130. Purpose.
  • 59.131. Definitions.
  • 59.132. General.
  • 59.133. Accident reporting.
  • 59.134. Construction, operation and maintenance, and other reports.
  • 59.135. Design requirements.
  • 59.136. Construction.
  • 59.137. Horizontal directional drilling and trenchless technology, or direct buried methodologies.
  • 59.138. Pressure testing.
  • 59.139. Operation and maintenance.
  • 59.140. Qualification of pipeline personnel.
  • 59.141. Land agents.
  • 59.142. Corrosion control.

Rather than try to summarize all of them, I will touch on items in a few of the sections that seem particularly important. For the sake of brevity, I have omitted many important points, including those relating to HDD, noise, and corrosion control. I encourage readers to look through the documents themselves, and submit their comments accordingly. The following are a few of the most significant items. Except as noted, the material in quotes is copied from the PUC’s document.

59.131. Definitions. Most of the definitions in this section are self-explanatory, but one is quite noteworthy: the definition of “Affected public”. It is defined as “residents and places of congregation (businesses, schools, and the like) along the pipeline and the associated right-of-way within 1,000 feet, or within the LFL [lower flammability limit], of a pipeline or pipeline facility, whichever is greater.”

The “lower flammability limit” is the outermost edge of a flammable cloud–what we commonly refer to as the boundary of the “blast zone”.

The definition of “affected public” and “LFL” are used throughout the proposed regulations to specify who must receive communications and be notified of events, and where valves can be located.

Implementing this rule will mean that pipeline operators will have to be upfront about the size of the flammable cloud that could be produced by a leak. (Sunoco has steadfastly refused to disclose this information.)

59.133. Accident reporting. “… after the release of a hazardous liquid [the operator] must provide immediate notice to the Pipeline Safety Section [of the PUC] and emergency responders.  Notice must be provided at the earliest practicable moment and no later than one hour after confirmed discovery.”

This is a start, but it is insufficient. If the emergency responders are notified an hour after a leak is confirmed, it may be far too late for evacuation. Automatic leak detection and immediate notification, or the addition of an odorant, are needed. (See 59.139, below.)

59.135. Design requirements. “… in addition to providing external loads for earthquakes, vibration, and thermal expansion and contraction, a hazardous liquid public utility must account for anticipated external loads for landslides, sinkholes, subsidence, and other geotechnical hazards.”

I’m not sure if this design requirement would have prevented the crises at Lisa Drive and Valley Creek in Exton, but it would at least have raised the important issues. It is a useful addition.

59.136. Construction. There are several important requirements in this section:

“… no pipeline may be located under private dwellings, industrial buildings, and places of public assembly.”

Of course these pipelines shouldn’t go under buildings that might have people in them. In fact, the pipelines should be placed far away from them. As far as I know, Mariner East does not go under buildings, but it comes within a few feet.

“… a minimum of 12 inches between the outside of a pipe and any underground structure, including structures owned by the hazardous liquid public utility and foreign structures, without exception. “

By placing ME2 and ME2x within 4 inches of each other when they are put inside casings (and at the entrance and exit of casings), Sunoco increases the risk that an explosion in one would trigger an explosion in the other. 12 inches is probably not sufficient spacing, but it would be far better than Sunoco’s current practice.

“… a hazardous liquid public utility shall install valves based on a pipeline’s proximity to schools, churches, hospitals, daycares, nursing facilities, commercial facilities, industrial facilities, sport complexes and public parks within the outer most area of the LFL. “

It would be good to install valves to help prevent catastrophes in the most vulnerable locations. However, the PUC provides no guidance about what the actual rules for valve placement should be. That’s a serious shortcoming of this provision.

“A hazardous liquid public utility shall install vehicle barriers at an above-ground valve station adjacent to a roadway.  The vehicle barriers must be designed and constructed to protect the above-ground valve station from the largest types of vehicles.”

Vehicle barriers are essential, and you would think installing them would be common sense. But Sunoco ignored requests to install vehicle barriers at the valve station along Dorlan Mill Road in Chester County, directly across from Shamona Creek School.

59.139. Operation and maintenance. “… hazardous liquid public utilities [must] consult with emergency responders in developing and updating an emergency procedures manual.  The manual must address (1) steps to inform emergency responders of the practices and procedures to be followed for providing them with information regarding the pipeline, (2) the development of a continuing education program for emergency responders and the affected public, and (3) table-top drills to be conducted twice a year and a response drill to be conducted annually to simulate a pipeline emergency.”

Requiring the operator’s involvement in developing an emergency manual is a step in the right direction. But the PUC should require a plan that is actually feasible. Telling the public to “walk half a mile upwind” is not feasible.

This section also requires a public awareness program that meets standards set by the American Petroleum Institute. For pipelines like Mariner East, it should require (but does not) the wording specified by the judge in the Safety 7 case: leaks from these lines “can cause property damage, personal injury, burns, asphyxiation, and death.”

“…a leak detection system must be designed as a robust, Real Time Transient Model, under API RP 1130, capable of identifying small leaks.  A CPM [Computational Pipeline Monitoring] system must be designed with high sensitivity to commodity releases….  If these requirements cannot be met within five years, a hazardous liquid public utility shall odorize all HVL pipelines. “

The leak detection system described here is based on monitoring pressure changes. That has proven insufficient. If it is going to detect most leaks, the system should be based on detecting the actual escaping gases in the pipeline right-of-way. That technology is available, but Sunoco balks at the cost. If that type of system is not installed, then odorization should be required immediately, not in five years.

“… a hazardous liquid public utility shall determine the need for remote controlled EFRDs {Emergency Flow Restriction Devices] in consultation with public officials in all HCAs {High Consequence Areas = densly-populated areas].  The need for emergency flow restriction devices in HCAs must be based on limiting the LFL to 660 feet on either side of a pipeline. 

These EFRDs limit the amount of material escaping from a pipeline by shutting off sections of it in an emergency. The requirement to limit the flammable cloud to 660 feet on either side of the pipeline is insufficient, but it is a great improvement over the existing Mariner East situation, which could create a cloud extending over 6000 feet.

59.141. Land agents. “… land agents [must] hold a valid Pennsylvania professional license as an attorney, real estate salesperson, real estate broker, professional engineer, professional land surveyor, or professional geologist during the performance of land agent work or services.”

This is a major improvement over the complete lack of regulation on land agents currently. But there is no penalty here for deceiving landowners or abuse of eminent domain.

Action you can take right now. As I hope you can now see, the PUC is proposing far-reaching and much-needed regulatory reform, but there are still improvements to be made. The PUC is asking for your comments, and when you provide them, I encourage you to emphasize the valuable steps the PUC proposes to take as well as the missing parts that should be added.

In your comments, I would suggest singling out 3 or 4 items in the proposed regulations that absolutely must be retained (you know that the industry will be working hard to remove them); and also mention several things that need to be added. Mention the proposed section.

As one example, you might decide that the new land-agent regulations are important. You could say, “The proposed regulations concerning land agents in Section 59.141 are essential, given the terrible record of deception and intimidation by unregulated agents seeking easements for Mariner East.”

Whatever comments you decide to make, they should be submitted by using the PUC’s “efiling” system at  You must mention the Docket No. L-2019-3010267 in your comment. You’ll want to write out your comments first, then save them in the form of a PDF. (The PUC requires you to submit a PDF).

When you go to the efiling link, above, you’ll be asked to fill out a form to set up an account. For “Account type”, choose “Individual”. Then you can fill in your contact information and choose a password. Once that is done, you can “efile” your PDF.

The deadline for filing is April 12, 2022, but don’t wait! Please do it now, while it’s still on your mind. The PUC needs to hear from each one of us.