A federal proposal to reduce leaks of greenhouse gases from pipelines would be the first major change in standards since the 1970s. There are more than 2.7 million miles of pipelines carrying natural gas across the country.
Pennsylvania has been a hotspot for pipeline construction following the shale gas boom.
The proposed rule from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration would put more responsibility on pipeline operators to find and fix leaks by requiring them to do more frequent inspections using updated technology.
It also requires companies to fix all leaks. Right now, they only have to repair leaks determined to present an immediate public safety threat, regardless of resulting environmental harms.
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Emma Bast, a staff attorney with PennFuture, said the rule would bring inspection requirements into the 21st century. She said she’s pleased to see an explicit requirement for reducing harm to the environment.
Bast says reducing methane and other pollutants found in natural gas could improve people’s health.
“It saves people locally from volatile organic compounds that give people cancer and asthma and breathing problems and it saves people on a broader scale from all the direct and indirect impacts of climate change,” Bast said.
She added the proposal could cut costs for the state.
”Because right now pipeline operators have basically been able to externalize the costs of their environmental impacts and their impacts to public health onto the neighboring communities and onto the state itself,” Bast said.
The rule is part of the Biden Administration’s pledge to reduce methane emissions 30% below 2020 levels by 2030. PHMSA says, in 2030 alone, the rule could eliminate up to 1 million metric tons of methane nationally—equivalent to the emissions from 5.6 million gas-powered cars.
Methane makes up about 10% of the country’s emissions but has much higher warming power than carbon dioxide.
In response to the proposal, American Petroleum Institute Pennsylvania said industry-led innovation is already helping to reduce methane emissions.
“We are reviewing the proposed rule and continuing our industry-wide effort to reduce methane emissions,” said Stephanie Catarino Wissman, API PA Executive Director.
In a report released a few days before the proposed rule, API noted data from PHMSA shows pipeline incidents decreased 28% over the last five years.
This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WPSU, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.