Pennsylvania seeks dialogue on natural gas infra

Governor Tom Wolf is setting up a multi-stakeholder task force to collaborate on natural gas pipeline development, part of the state government’s commitment “to seeing the natural gas industry succeed.”

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf is forming a task force that will bring together representatives from state agencies, local and federal government, the natural gas industry and environmental groups as the state foresees up to 30,000 miles of pipelines being constructed in the next decade.

The Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force (PITF), which will be chaired by John Quigley, acting secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), will be responsible for recommending best practices in connection with planning, siting and routing pipelines to minimise environmental and community impacts, efficient permitting, employing construction methods that reduce environmental impact and developing long-term operations and maintenance plans to ensure pipeline safety and integrity, according to a statement issued by the governor’s office.

Those who will comprise the 33-member task force have not yet been selected, Quigley told Infrastructure Investor in a phone interview on Thursday as DEP is still accepting applications until June 12 on its website.

“We hope to have our first meeting in July and we are shooting for an eight-month time period to complete the work,” Quigley said. “By work, I mean a report that will discuss best management practices essentially for the entire life cycle of pipeline development.”

According to the statement, over the next decade, Pennsylvania could see the construction of as many as 25,000 miles of gathering lines as well as an additional 4,000 to 5,000 miles of midstream and transmission pipelines.

Part of the Marcellus shale play, the largest source of natural gas in the US, is located in Pennsylvania, resulting in natural gas drilling activity that has outpaced the development of infrastructure needed to bring the gas to market.

“There is immense economic opportunity here but at the same time if we can reach a collaborative decision about smarter planning, we can – at the same time – reduce the environmental impact and perhaps reduce community impact as well,” Quigley said.

While the scope of the work the task force will be called upon to undertake is broad, “so is the opportunity […] in that there’s a chance here to provide the industry with some degree of certainty in permitting,” Quigley said, noting that given the current low price regime “it’s critical to get this infrastructure developed.”

Response has been very positive from various stakeholders including major interstate pipeline companies, midstream companies, producers and local government officials. “Their response was essentially ‘when is the first meeting?’” he said.

Quigley was involved in a similar collaborative initiative when he worked for Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources between 2004 and 2009, serving as secretary of that agency in the last two years of his tenure.

When Pennsylvania passed its Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act in 2004 it had no rules in place regarding the siting of wind power in the state.

A multi-stakeholder group was brought together establishing the first set of voluntary siting standards for wind power in the country, which were adopted by Pennsylvania’s Game Commission in 2009. They continue to be in effect.

“So we’ve seen the power of a collaborative approach, a non-regulatory approach,” he remarked. “This is certainly a much bigger challenge because this has statewide impact,” Quigley continued, noting that practically every county in Pennsylvania will be affected by pipeline development. “The scale of this is much broader, the number of stakeholders is much bigger; but we think the concept and the approach holds and we’re excited to be leading this conversation.”

Once the task force is established, a number of sub-committees will also be created. DEP will make suggestions regarding the number of sub-committees needed and how the work should be divided but ultimately the task force will make the final decision. The task force is expected to present its report to Governor Wolf by February 2016.