Saturday, November 2, 2013

Could New York suffer a disaster like the San Bruno pipeline explosion?

This is part three of a three part series I've done on pipeline jurisdiction.
It's mainly an introduction and preamble to the other two parts.
  • Part 1: Federal Jurisdiction.
    Here we explore a few fun facts. Like

    Who decides whether a natural gas pipeline or compressor station
    is considered an "interstate transmission line" subject to FERC jurisdiction,
    or a "gathering line" subject to local state jurisdiction?

    Here are your choices:
    A) Congress B) FERC C) The American Petroleum Institute

    If you think the answer is A or B, the truth might surprise you.

    Oh, by the way, most(*) interstate crude oil pipelines (inc. dilbit and syncrude),
    NGL pipelines (like the proposed "Bluegrass"), and other refined
    products pipelines (e.g. jet fuel, gasoline), have no federal permitting authority,
    and no federal environmental review.
      Have a nice day!

    (* except those crossing an international border, like the Keystone XL, which would import Canadian Dilbit [tar sands product], or the Kinder-Morgan Cochin Pipeline, which exports Natural Gas Liquids into Canada [to be consumed by Tar Sands production])
  • Part2: New York State Jurisdiction

    How do we decide which non-FERC pipelines are regulated by the NY Public Service Commission?
    The rules are extremely complex, unless you see the table which I've created here.

    There are several exemptions which allow many pipelines to be completely unregulated,
    including major gas transmission lines located wholly underground in a city.

Part three (actually an introduction and summary of the other two parts)
and explains why I wrote these articles.

I used to think that FERC had jurisdiction over all interstate pipeline facilities,
storage facilities, compressor stations, metering and regulating facilities, etc.

As I began to research pipelines, I found there were many exceptions.
This puzzled me for years.

For example:
  1. There are interstate pipelines which are NOT governed by FERC.
    (e.g., Bluestone, Laser Northeast).
  2. There are intrastate pipelines (wholly within a single state)
    which ARE governed by FERC. (e.g., Millennium).

  3. Let us also note that only pipelines cross state lines. So, how can I tell
    if a compressor station, metering station, storage facility (etc), which sits
    wholly within a single state, is "interstate" (FERC jurisdiction) or not?

    As it turns out, a few compressor stations are FERC jurisdiction (e.g.,
    Hancock NY, Minisink NY), but most are not, EVEN THOSE which
    directly connect to interstate pipelines!

    Here is a compressor station tour I took of Susquehanna County PA
    and Broome County NY:

    It turns out that NONE of those compressors are under FERC jurisdiction, even though
    the biggest ones listed (
    Windsor NY, Williams Central Station, Appalachia Midstream, Shields,
    and UGI Auburn) all connect to interstate transmission lines.

    What tha...?

    So, Who decides whether a compressor station which is directly connect to,
    and charges an interstate pipeline is considered FERC jurisdiction?

    The truth is AMAZING and unbelievable.
    The answer is NOT CONGRESS, and also NOT FERC

    In fact, it is the American Petroleum Institute! FERC, without the consent of
    Congress, delegated the definition to these regulations to the API via a document
    called API RP80, which is "incorporated by reference" in to the regs.

  4. Note well the FERC has jurisdiction only over SOME natural gas interstate pipelines,
    and associated compressor stations, storage+metering facilities.

    FERC has NO jurisdiction over any hazardous liquids pipelines, e.g.,
    • Crude oil, Dilbit or Syncrude (tar sands products),
      like Keystone XL, or the Pegasus which leaked in Mayflower AR.
    • NGLs/condensate (like the proposed Bluegrass pipeline)
    • or refined products, like gasoline (Buckeye/TEPCO), jet fuel, etc
Generally, to determine if a particular pipeline, compressor, or storage facility is regulated
by federal authority-- FERC for permits, PHMSA (DOT) and NTSB for safety-- or your local
state, you begin by asking "is it FERC jurisdiction?".  IF NOT, then it falls under your state

Well, mostly. In NY state where I live, non-FERC pipelines which are <1000' and/or <125 psi are utterly unregulated,and no EIS is required for siting.

BUT, pipelines which are >1000' or >125 PSI might also be exempted from PSC oversight (meaning,ungegulated), if they are:

"located  wholly  underground in a city or wholly within the right of way of a state, county  or  town  highway or village  street".

These seem like really bizarre exemptions, especially since buried pipelines in a city (high population density) pose special risks, as we saw in the San Bruno explosion in 2010, which killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

Am I reading the NY State law correctly? That "major transmission line pipelines which are wholly
underground in a NY City or under the right of way of a street are COMPLETELY UNREGULATED?
Not be FERC, and also not by the PSC?

Sounds like an accident waiting to happen.
San Bruno, NY anyone?

May you, and all beings
be happy and free from suffering :)
-- ancient Buddhist Prayer (Metta)

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