Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Pipeline Problems: Natural Gas Gathering Lines in Rural Parts of Oklahoma Lack Oversight

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Pipeline Problems: Natural Gas Gathering Lines in Rural Parts of Oklahoma Lack Oversight

Article excerpt

A loophole in state law leaves natural gas gathering lines in rural parts of Oklahoma with little regulatory oversight.

It's not uncommon for Oklahoma Corporation Commission staff members to find out about an accident on one of these rural gathering lines only when the media starts calling, said Dennis Fothergill, manager of the OCC's pipeline safety division.

"Sometimes the operator feels that if something happens on a nonregulated line, they are under no obligation to call us," Fothergill said. "If it's a nonregulated line, we'll hang around to collect as much information as possible, because the media is going to call and the legislators across the street are going to call, so we get as much information as we can to fill in the gaps."

The OCC has the power to regulate all intrastate oil and natural gas transmission and distribution pipelines, but has no authority over gathering lines in rural areas.

Oklahoma law now bans the state from enacting laws that are stricter than federal regulations, so the OCC has no authority over many issues relating to oil and natural gas pipelines.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of Pipeline Safety does not regulate natural gas gathering pipelines in rural areas, so the OCC can't, either. Rural areas account for most of the state.

"We cannot be more stringent than the federal regulations - we have to wait until the federal government enacts new regulations, because we cannot be more proactive," Fothergill said.

Fothergill's department of 12 people is responsible for inspecting 40,000 miles of intrastate pipeline maintained by more than 260 different operators. The pipeline safety division conducts audits on pipeline systems under its jurisdiction every three years.

Two explosions in three years

There have been two explosions in the past three years involving natural gas gathering lines in rural areas operated by Oklahoma City- based Enogex. The company markets, gathers, processes, transports and stores natural gas.

A subsidiary of Oklahoma City-based OGE Energy Corp., Enogex operates about 9,000 miles of various types of pipeline in the state.

How often those pipelines are inspected depends on how old they are, what they are used for and where they are located, said Brian Alford, a spokesman for OGE and Enogex.

The company has about 39 miles of gas gathering lines that are not subject to regular state or federal safety audits, according to the Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

"Whatever the circumstance, we make every effort to ensure that we meet or exceed industry and regulatory standards," Alford said. "The safe operation of our pipeline system is of paramount importance at Enogex, regardless of the type of pipeline or facilities. Enogex is among its industry leaders in terms of its safety performance. …

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