General Accountability Office Report on Gathering Lines

<<Back to articles

Under the pipeline safety regulations, operators of certain gathering lines are required to convey specific information to public officials. This information includes the purpose and general location of gathering lines. Gathering lines are pipelines that collect raw natural gas and crude oil from areas of production and transport them to processing facilities or other larger collection points. Gathering pipelines include a range of sizes depending on the quantity of the product being moved and the demand for capacity. Due to the recent development of these natural resources, many gathering systems are being built throughout the country to move these energy supplies. One of the issues arising from this activity involves the level and extent of regulations necessary to govern the construction and operation of gathering lines.

The General Accountability Office (GAO) is a little known but highly respected and influential non-partisan federal agency tasked with researching issues of interest by members of Congress. As an independent agency, GAO is often directed to report on specific topics where limited information is available or when policy around a relevant issue is under consideration. Recently, the GAO was asked by Congress to review how gathering lines are regulated and whether additional oversight is needed to ensure the safety of those living or working near these facilities.

The GAO spent nearly 12 months looking into the matter during which time they consulted state and federal regulators, industry associations and other stakeholders. In early 2012, they released their findings to Congress. GAO did not make a determination as to whether additional regulation was needed. Instead, GAO recommended that PHMSA needed to collect more information to determine the level of risk posed by gathering lines. It was indicated that a deeper analysis would foster a better understanding of the level of regulation that should be applied going forward. PHMSA has acknowledged this issue and requested feedback from the industry regarding what level of risk gathering lines pose and how they should be regulated going forward.

PHMSA has acknowledged this issue and requested feedback from the industry regarding what level of risk gathering lines pose and how they should be regulated going forward. PHMSA is expected to conduct an extensive review of the issue in late 2012 through the examination of historical records as well as independent analysis of the various state regulations currently in place. It is expected that PHMSA will propose new rules concerning gathering lines sometime in 2013.

For more information on GAO or to read the complete GAO report, visit www.gao.gov/products/GAO-12-388.