PUCO works to make Columbiana County natural gas pipelines safer

SALEM – Of the 10 Public Utilities Commission of Ohio oil and gas pipeline inspectors in the state, most of them are in the six-county area in northeastern Ohio including Columbiana County, according to the PUCO.

This is the area with the most shale boom-related action and Jason Gilham of the PUCO said the lines are tracked on a GPS master map, but there is no “one stop” center where all the activity is assembled.

Natural gas is transported from production sites to refineries, and to its final destination of consumption, by pipeline.

The pipeline location information is recorded on construction notices submitted to the PUCO along with GPS coordinates, Gilham said.

“So we know the mapping routes,” he said adding that “a lot of that depends on the function of the pipeline.”

He said the PUCO has jurisdiction over gathering lines and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) has jurisdiction over production facilities on the well head site along with the siting of production pipelines.

A gathering line is any pipeline upstream from a processing facility, any line carrying gas from a processing facility to a fractionation plant and any line carrying natural gas from a processing plant to an interstate or intrastate pipeline.

The PUCO Pipeline Safety Section monitors the construction of these lines and conducts routine inspections and audits once the lines are placed in service.

The PUCO regulates the safety aspects of most gas pipelines, including gathering lines, located within the state.

Pipeline operators must notify the PUCO before constructing new gas pipelines and again before placing these lines into service.

The only exceptions to PUCO safety jurisdiction are production lines, which are regulated by the ODNR; and liquids and interstate lines which are regulated by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Administration (PHMSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The PUCO said it has received 20 construction notices for gathering lines in Columbiana County that are either already under construction or scheduled for construction this year.

PUCO gas pipeline inspectors perform compliance inspections of gas pipeline operators to ensure they are following design, construction, operation and maintenance safety regulations, the PUCO said.

Inspectors also investigate incidents to determine what occurred, whether violations of safety regulations caused or contributed to the incident, and analyze lessons learned to further improve pipeline safety.

The incidents include accidents involving the release of gas resulting in a death, injury or property damage greater than $50,000.

And, finally, they negotiate corrective action with operators when violations are found, track corrective action to ensure it is occurring, and prepare cases for commission consideration if appropriate.

On Wednesday, the PUCO adopted rules into Ohio Administrative Code set forth by Senate Bill 315 of the 129th General Assembly extending safety regulation over gas gathering/processing plant pipeline operators, the PUCO said in a press release.

Among the rules and regulations extended were requirements on damage prevention programs, notice of service failures and incidents, pipe design requirements, enhancements to the PUCO’s enforcement authority over pipeline operators who are not in compliance and the establishment of public education programs.