A complex pipeline system transports natural gas and other hazardous liquids across thousands of miles over pristine lands and through wildlife habitat, connecting well pads, compressor stations and processing plants for the oil and gas industry in Colorado. Nationwide, the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration regulates only a small percentage of these gathering lines. The safety administration does not regulate natural gas gathering lines in areas with fewer than 10 buildings per mile intended for human occupancy within 220 yards of a line. The administration has a regulatory agreement with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, but only for safety involving intrastate natural gas lines, and generally that jurisdiction is only for distribution lines to utility customers.
Faulty pressure gauges and leaky pipelines can cause extensive soil and water contamination, leaking methane and benzene into groundwater.
Some pipelines are regulated by local governments, others by state, and some by federal regulators, and some fall through the cracks. The lack of regulation and oversight of such pipelines has residents and local governments worried about safety and the increasing number of spills and leaky pipelines. New discussions about pipeline regulations are focusing on how they apply pipelines in rural areas that transport oil and gas from production areas to processing facilities. Legislation is also being proposed to raise the limit on fines for companies who violate safety regulations. This issue also underscores the concerns that millions of Americans have about the impacts of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Even with the strictest regulations, opponents of Keystone XL argue that accidents, leaks and spills are inevitable and could spell disaster for the nation’s land, water and communities.
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