The number of utility pipelines transporting oil and gas has grown in the past decade, and even as the state of Pennsylvania relies on the positive economic impact of the industry, lawmakers are also concerned about the dangers that poorly maintained infrastructure could pose to surrounding communities.
Gov. Tom Wolf made a surprise visit to the Sunoco/Energy Transfer Mariner East pipeline in West Goshen Township in Chester County on Thursday, where he told residents he would not stop construction there, according to the Phoenixville Reporter and Item. Residents have asked the governor to close the pipeline due to safety concerns.
Residents reported hearing a loud noise in the pipeline’s construction area, which Sunoco officials attributed to a backfire that happened during routine maintenance, according to reports. The backfire did not release any liquids or jeopardize public safety, Sunoco officials said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Carolyn Comitta, who was with Wolf during his visit, is co-sponsoring House Bill 1568 with Republican Rep. Chris Quinn, which would establish the Pipeline Safety and Communication Board. The goal of the 22-member board is to improve communication about pipeline planning, construction and communications, particularly in the times of emergencies.
Members of the Public Utility Commission, Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Health, Department of Transportation, Emergency Management Agency, legislative leaders, governor’s office, local government and natural gas industry will serve on the board, according to information from the bill.
“Almost weekly we hear of another explosion, a contamination, a leak or another pipeline incident somewhere in the country,” Comitta said during a Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness hearing this week on the bill. “Communication is the key at all levels of these pipeline projects, as we saw recently at West Goshen Township.”
Utility officials say the bill may hurt more than help in emergency preparedness because it removes a clause that keeps information about utilities confidential, known as CSI.
“This repeal enables agencies to provide CSI information to the board, but there is no provision suggesting that the CSI act will be replaced with a new mechanism to provide some degree of protection to CSI,” said Seth Mendelsohn, executive director of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, who said lauded the goals of the bill.
Comitta said she would take comments from Mendelsohn and others into consideration.
“This is the beginning of the opportunity to amend a bill to turn idea into reality,” Comitta said.
The bill remains in committee and other hearings are expected, hopefully before the end of the year, Chairman Stephen Barrar said.