Pipeline Paths A Mystery; Not Being Tracked By State Regulators

Wheeling Intelligencer
4 November 2012
By Casey Junkins, Staff Writer

WHEELING - Thousands of miles of natural gas and oil pipelines are being placed throughout the local region, and neither West Virginia nor Ohio have regulations in place to map exactly where the pipelines are going.

This could mean that some transmission lines - such as the Tennessee Gas Pipeline that ruptured in Columbiana County, Ohio, last year and set off a massive explosion to be seen for miles - are never inspected for leaks or corrosion.

''It is not like inspectors are out there tagging these lines. Companies are just building them," said Tim Greene, owner of Land and Mineral Management of Appalachia and a former West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection oil and gas inspector.

"I seriously doubt that 10 years from now, anyone with the state will know where these pipelines are."

Greene also doubts the companies currently installing the pipes will keep accurate records as to their location. "It really is something to consider when looking at a pipeline," added Greene.

"A lot of these are buried. Just because a company may know where they are now doesn't mean they won't lose track of them at some point."

There are two major types of natural gas pipelines:

"The (Public Service Commission of West Virginia) has some rules and regulations for this, but I doubt they know where all the lines are," Greene said.

PSC spokeswoman Susan Small directed the Sunday News-Register to the organization's website, which notes that West Virginia "regulates and inspects the interstate and intrastate gas and hazardous liquid pipeline operators." This is accomplished through an agreement with the federal Office of Pipeline Safety, the website states.

When asked if the recent increase in natural gas activity prompted anyone to suggest the commission increase its oversight of the pipelines, Small answered "no."

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection - which issues drilling permits through its Office of Oil and Gas and air emission permits through the Division of Air Quality - has no permit for gas pipelines, spokesman Thomas Aluise said.

"The DEP does not regulate gas transmission lines, beyond our ability to penalize a transmission line company for polluting a stream during construction," he said.

In Ohio, state Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Linda Oros said the agency needs to give approval for any pipeline crossing wetlands or streams.

"They usually try to direct their pipelines around these," Oros said of the gas companies and the water areas.

Steve Irwin is a spokesman for the Ohio Power Siting Board, an organization whose website states that it certifies all natural gas pipelines in Ohio that are greater than 500 feet in length, which would cover natural gas transmission lines. However, he said the board has no jurisdiction over gathering lines or transmission lines that carry ethane, propane, butane or pentane. This is an issue to the liquids-rich gas found in the Utica Shale.

"Regulation of gathering lines is left to those at the local level," Irwin said, noting a county engineer or some other entity established by a local government would have to track these lines.

Belmont County Engineer Fred Bennett said he has not been involved with the natural gas pipelines yet, noting his office would probably only have oversight if the lines are going to cross a county road.

Greene said because state regulators do not keep track of the gathering lines, property owners who sign right-of-way agreements to permit pipelines to cross their land should make sure they know where they are.

"Unfortunately, a lot of people don't even know there is a pipeline there until something goes wrong with it," he added.