EDF, Allies File Comments Calling For Strong Federal Standards on Gas Pipeline Leak Repair

Stronger oversight of the 3 million miles of U.S. pipelines critical for protecting communities and climate

August 17, 2023
Lily Jones, (202) 572-3538, lijones@edf.org

(WASHINGTON) Environmental Defense Fund and allies have filed comments calling on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration  to rapidly adopt comprehensive and rigorous standards for leak detection and repair, reporting and management of operational releases from natural gas pipelines.

The comments of the Joint Environmental Organizations outline why strong standards are anchored in law and are urgently needed to reduce harmful methane emissions and improve community safety. 80 environmental and community organizations also voiced support for the strongest possible pipeline safeguards in a letter to the agency. 

“Strong safeguards are needed to protect public safety and the environment from pipeline leaks which cause methane pollution, accelerate climate change, and put communities at risk,” said Erin Murphy, Senior Attorney, Environmental Defense Fund. “PHMSA must adopt strong pipeline leak survey and repair standards that unlock the full benefits of commercially available, advanced leak detection technologies that will make it possible to find and fix more pipeline leaks. Protective federal standards to reduce pipeline leaks are a vital component of a national methane reduction strategy.” 

Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas more than 80 times more harmful to the climate than carbon dioxide in the initial decades following its release. Natural gas is transported around the country in a network of approximately three million miles of pipelines, and leakage from this infrastructure is a major source of methane emissions. 

New EDF analysis finds that natural gas pipelines nationwide are leaking as much as 2.7 million tons of methane each year, which has the same climate impact as nearly 50 million passenger cars driven for a year. The analysis estimates that U.S. onshore gas pipeline methane leakage is between 3.75 times and 8 times greater than estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The proposed rule responds to Congressional action in the bipartisan PIPES Act of 2020, directing PHMSA to require pipeline operators to use advanced leak detection technologies and analytics to find and fix more leaks.

As detailed in the comments of EDF and allies, PHMSA should act quickly to finalize standards that include the following key components: 

  • A clear framework for gas leak management that prioritizes both the safety and environmental benefit of finding and fixing pipeline leaks, as required of PHMSA by law.
  • Clear and rigorous definitions for advanced leak detection technology performance, to ensure that operators implement effective technologies and work practices to find more methane leaks.
  • Increased leak survey frequencies and faster timelines for leak repair, to ensure rapid detection and mitigation of pipeline leaks.
  • Requirement for pipeline operators to minimize intentional natural gas releases such as equipment venting and blowdowns, reducing product loss and methane emissions.

PHMSA must also continue to expand oversight of gathering pipelines, which transport unprocessed gas from well sites to processing facilities. Gathering infrastructure has rapidly expanded over the last 20 years as natural gas production has increased, and there are now 435,000 miles of gathering lines in the U.S. Even with a much-needed gathering lines rule finalized by PHMSA in 2021, only about 90,000 miles of these pipelines are subject to basic safety requirements like emergency planning — and only 20,000 miles of gathering lines are required to conduct regular leak surveys. PHMSA should use this rulemaking to continue to expand protective standards to all U.S. gathering pipelines, to ensure greater safety and environmental protection.

PHMSA must act promptly to finalize comprehensive, rigorous and enforceable standards to improve operator accountability and protect communities from safety risks and environmental harms of natural gas pipeline leaks.

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