I’ve spent some time the last few days trying to piece together the legal jurisdiction, permitting authority and liability puzzle for the proposed Penn State gas pipeline. Information is contradictory, indicating potential authority held by several governing, regulatory and corporate bodies:
- Borough of State College (Council and/or Department of Public Works)
- Penn State University Board of Trustees
- Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania and NiSource
- PA Public Utilities Commission (PUC)
- Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, under delegated authority from the…
- US Department of Transportation, under delegated authority from the…
- US Congress via…
- the Code of Federal Regulations governing pipelines
- Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (because the pipeline crosses as stream)
Here’s a limited sampling of statements I could find on these topics, conveyed by email through community list-serves and other public information channels. As more information emerges in the coming days and weeks to clarify these and other pipeline-related issues, I’ll try to sift through it, organize it and post it.
October 2012 – State College Public Works Director Mark Whitfield – Email
“…Columbia Gas is regulated by the PUC. As a franchised public utility, the Borough must accommodate any infrastructure they desire to place within our rights-of-way, and they simply need to follow our right-of-way ordinance with regards to placement of lines. The Borough CANNOT dictate to Columbia where or where not to install lines…
My authority on this project is limited to ensuring Borough ordinances are followed with regards to the use of our rights-of-way. …
The appropriate agency to take a stance against Columbia Gas is the Public Utility Commission. They are the ones that decide what is safe in terms of installation process and the protection of citizens. The Borough cannot supersede the PUC….
Columbia Gas is a PUC regulated company. The PUC regulates installation, oversees safety procedures and maintenance, and sets rates. The Borough cannot supersede the PUC authority, and cannot deny Columbia Gas access to our rights-of-way. While Penn State will be completing the gas conversion work at the power plant, the installation and supply of gas comes under the purview of Columbia Gas…
If you feel the necessity to pursue your concerns, PSU and the PUC would be the two appropriate agencies to address.”
March 22, 2013 – PA Public Utility Commission (PUC) Press Secretary Jennifer Kocher – Email
“The PUC does not site any underground public utility facilities — we only have jurisdiction over the siting of high voltage aerial electric lines. That means we do not have any filings pertaining the route of the pipeline in State College. Our jurisdiction when it comes to natural gas pipelines is limited to safety inspections and the safety of construction and operation of the pipeline. Companies are required to notify the PUC at least 30 days in advance of beginning construction on a major project (cost greater than $300,000). We received notification from Columbia of the project in State College on Feb. 26, 2013, that had a construction start date of April 1, 2013.”
March 22, 2013 – State College Councilman Peter Morris – Email
“I have been reading the Highlands list messages about the pipeline and have learned a lot. Yesterday, I talked to [a resident] about a conversation [the resident] had with Bob Young, who is legal counsel for the PUC in Harrisburg. I then called Mr. Young myself and had a long conversation about the legal situation.
In summary, I was wrong in thinking that the PUC had authority over whether the gas pipeline can be built. Columbia Gas has a right to lay pipe under public rights of way but this right is subject to “reasonable” restrictions imposed by municipalities. Of course, the definition of “reasonable” is ultimately up to the courts.
I personally would vote to forbid the project, either on the grounds that it violates the borough charter or because its location makes it a public danger. If this happened, however, the borough would probably be sued. The suit would be expensive and the result unpredictable. If we won, it seems to me that an important precedent would be set.
By the way, I have recently learned that Manager Fountaine will not issue a permit for the pipeline before the April 1 meeting.
Everything in this message is public and you can share it as you please…”
March 22, 2013 – Russell Bedell, Columbia Gas of PA, Manager of Communications & Community Relations – Email
“All work done by Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania and NiSource meets or exceeds state and federal standards, including 49 C.F.R. Part 192—Transportation of Natural and Other Gas By Pipeline: Minimum Federal Safety Standards and API Standard 1104 – Welding of Pipelines and Related Facilities.
Pipeline: X52 Grade, inner diameter 12 inches, outer diameter 12.75 inches, tensile strength 52 KSI. The welding and x-ray procedures comply fully with API Standard 1104 – Welding of Pipelines and Related Facilities. The inspections of the x-rays done by a certified third party are regulated, audited and fully accessible to the Pennsylvania Utility Commission.
Corrosion protection of pipe: ARO (Abrasion Resistant Overlay) and FBE (Fusion-Based Epoxy) For cathodic protection, in addition to the above pipe coating, either sacrificial Magnesium anodes or an impressed current (rectifier) system will be installed.
We would perform leak inspections (quarterly) and corrosion inspections (annually or bi-monthly, depending on the system) on this pipeline project, with the information audited and fully accessible to the PUC using equipment compliant with all state and federal standards.
There will be a shut-off valve installed at the beginning of the new pipeline which is near Porter Road. This is designed as a manual shut-off valve which is the industry standard, however we are currently working with the manufacturer on the possibly of converting this to a remote flow control and shut-off valve.”
US Congress & US Department of Transportation
Code of Federal Regulations – TITLE 49—Transportation; Subtitle B–OTHER REGULATIONS RELATING TO TRANSPORTATION; CHAPTER I–PIPELINE AND HAZARDOUS MATERIALS SAFETY ADMINISTRATION, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION; SUBCHAPTER D–PIPELINE SAFETY; PART 192–TRANSPORTATION OF NATURAL AND OTHER GAS BY PIPELINE: MINIMUM FEDERAL SAFETY STANDARDS