July 31, 2019

Commerce Committee Passes Udall Amendment to Require First National Safety Standards for Dangerous, Unregulated Gas Gathering Lines

Udall votes against committee passage of Pipeline Safety bill due to lack of action on methane leaks, pledges to keep fighting for further improvement as bill moves forward

WASHINGTON – Today, during a Senate Commerce Committee markup of the PIPES Act of 2019, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) secured passage of his critical amendment to require the first-ever national safety standards for nearly 100,000 miles of the most dangerous natural gas “gathering” lines that have been left unregulated for decades – even though many of these lines carry the same risks as other federally-regulated pipelines.  The amendment also requires the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study that reviews the availability of location and other data on natural gas gathering lines.

However, the committee failed to include Udall’s other measure to combat dangerous leaks of methane – a greenhouse gas super pollutant – from natural gas pipelines by requiring the use of the best available technology. As a result, Udall voted against advancing the full PIPES Act of 2019 and pledged to continue fighting for provisions to control methane leaks in the final PIPES Act, as the bill moves to the full Senate.

“My amendment will significantly improve public safety, providing the first-ever safety standards for nearly 100,000 miles of dangerous, unregulated gas gathering pipelines that can threaten our homes, families, and communities,” Udall said. “History shows that we cannot rely on PHMSA to act on its own, so I am glad that the Commerce Committee adopted this critical amendment to require them to act within 90 days of this bill’s passage – especially at a time when oil and gas and residential development are increasing in states like New Mexico and more and more lives are at risk from these unregulated pipelines. Tragedies involving unregulated gathering lines have already struck too many communities and oil and gas workers, and this amendment will fix a gaping hole in our safety framework to save lives and bolster public safety.” 

“But we simply must do more to protect people and our environment from the methane that is leaking from all types natural gas pipelines, endangering our communities and accelerating climate change,” Udall continued. “It’s the year 2019 – and the technology we have to detect and repair methane leaks is very advanced. We should not be relying on the public’s eyes and noses. Given the safety risks and the looming threat of climate change, we can and must do better. Methane is a climate change super-pollutant and we don’t even know how much is being released from pipelines. That needs to change, and I will continue to fight to include a sensible methane leak prevention amendment in the final bill.”

The Udall amendment that was adopted by the Commerce Committee requires the Secretary of Transportation to ensure completion of a stalled safety rule at PHMSA proposed by the Obama administration in 2016 that would regulate natural gas gathering lines of eight inches and larger, which would be approximately 100,000 miles of gathering lines (81 Fed. Reg. 20722; Docket No. PHMSA–2011–0023). Despite years of debate, the vast majority of natural gas gathering lines remain unregulated by PHMSA even though many are the same size and pressure of regulated interstate transmission lines.  Due to increasing development of oil and natural gas in the United States, the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America estimates that over 300,000 additional miles of new onshore gas gathering lines are likely to be constructed over the next 20 years.    

The amendment also requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the availability of location and other technical data that is collected or expected to be collected by natural gas gathering line operators and to make any recommendations as a result of the review.  It is common for operators to have very little information or understanding about the location of their gathering line infrastructure, which can present dangers as residential and other developments begin to encroach on these lines.