May 13—Pipelines will play an increasingly important economic role, not only in the Permian Basin but in the state, as both crude and natural gas production rise.
Pipelines will also play an increasing economic role across the nation but are challenged by opponents concerned not only about pipeline safety but their environmental impact. That challenge comes even as the Biden administration announced plans to invest $196 million in pipeline modernization projects across 19 states.
The Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration recently announced a proposed new rule designed to improve detection and repair of leaks from gas pipelines. The proposed rule, issued May 5, has been sent to the Federal Register, with a publication date and an opportunity for a 60-day public comment period expected to be made available soon.
The proposal requires pipeline operators to establish advanced leak detection programs aimed at detecting and repairing all gas leaks by:
—Strengthening leakage survey and patrolling requirements by increasing the frequency of surveys and requiring the use of commercially available, advanced leak detection technology, such as aerial or vehicle surveys, handheld detection devices and continuous monitoring systems, with flexibility for operators to use a range of approaches to meet a minimum performance standard.
—Reducing the volume of gas released due to unintentional emissions, like leaks and equipment failures and revising the reporting minimum threshold to detect smaller leaks sooner.
—Minimizing intentional releases, such as those caused by equipment venting or blowdowns, associated with pipeline maintenance, repair and construction and encouraging operators to consider cost-effective equipment that can capture the methane for later use.
—Establishing explicit criteria and timeframes for the timely repair of all leaks that pose a risk to public safety or the environment.
The proposal drew a quick defense of the nation's pipelines from industry representatives.
"We believe that the proposed DOT PHMSA rules are duplicative and unnecessary, as the pipeline industry is already doing much of what is being proposed — either due to existing state and federal regulations or through stringent operational best practices," Thure Cannon, president of the Texas Pipeline Association, told the Reporter-Telegram by email. "From the wellhead to the end user, pipeline companies have a built-in incentive to detect and repair methane leaks, ensuring that every molecule is accounted for. It's just good business, especially as methane is the product being sold."
American Gas Association President and Chief Executive Officer Karen Harbert told the Reporter-Telegram by email, "America's natural gas utilities have a proven track record of voluntary emissions reductions, with emissions from the average natural gas home falling by 1.2% per year, and emissions from the overall natural gas system down 69% since 1990. As we review the specifics of this proposed rule, we will continue to work with PHMSA in furtherance of our member companies' efforts to reduce emissions while continuing to deliver the safe, affordable and reliable energy that customers rely on."
The PHMSA said in announcing its proposed rule that it would enhance both public safety and reduce methane emissions and other air pollution from more than 2.7 million miles of gas transmission, distribution and gathering pipelines; 400+ underground natural gas storage facilities; and 165 liquefied natural gas facilities.
In 2030 alone, the rule has the potential to eliminate up to 1 million metric tons of methane emissions — equivalent to 25 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, or the emissions from 5.6 million gas-powered cars, the agency said. The agency also estimated the rule would reduce emissions from covered pipelines by up to 55%.
The PHMSA's proposal drew support from the Environmental Defense Fund.
"Natural gas pipelines are ubiquitous in our neighborhoods, cities, parks and rural communities and pipeline leaks are both safety risks, and a source of methane pollution that accelerates climate change," Erin Murphy, senior attorney for EDF, said in a statement. "PHMSA's proposal is a welcome step that reflects important updates to existing standards, including unlocking the use of advanced technologies to find and fix more pipeline leaks. Strong federal standards to reduce pipeline leaks are critical for delivering on the Biden administration's commitment to curb climate-warming methane pollution while increasing public health and safety"
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