The country is experiencing the Marcellus Shale boom, and while that is a good thing, it also shows there is a lack of inspectors. That means safety is an issue.
One person died and three others suffered critical injuries earlier this year after an explosion of a natural gas pipeline in a Philadelphia neighborhood.
One month later, a natural gas pipeline exploded, killing five people, including an infant, in Allentown.
Because of those tragedies, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) Chairman Robert Powelson said he has one goal.
“We don’t have another situation like Philadelphia Gas Works had or UGI had in Allentown. That keeps me up at night,” Powelson said.
Powelson said what he worries about on those sleepless nights are the natural gas pipelines that connect Marcellus Shale wells to larger transmission lines in western Pennsylvania.
He said the federal agency that should be inspecting those lines hasn’t been looking after them and he asked the state PUC to do so.
“My organization is set up for mission failure if I can’t put those boots on the ground,” Powelson said.
The PUC has nine inspectors already keeping an eye on 47,000 miles of gas transmission pipelines.
“That’s what my nine are tasked with now. You bring on Marcellus Shale pipeline development and our whole world changes. I mean, I don’t have the resources to get properly reimbursed to go out and hire these people, let alone train them to get out in the field,” said Powelson.
The PUC and Marcellus Shale industry are backing two bills in Harrisburg to give the PUC the authority and federal funding to inspect gas well pipelines.
“What’s so key is that we have even more local understanding of these pipelines and that we can have inspectors in a position where they can know what’s going on on the ground,” said Katie Klaber, of the Marcellus Shale Coalition.