Pipeline development is important for the future of the Barnett Shale and the U.S. energy supply.
Natural gas production from the Barnett Shale is increasingly important to the U.S. natural gas supply and our country’s energy independence. Currently, about 5 percent of one of the nation’s most domestically abundant and cleanest energy source is produced in the region, and as production levels increase, the Barnett Shale needs additional pipeline infrastructure to safely transport natural gas from drilling areas to processing facilities and finally to end consumers.
Pipelines are a critical component of our nation’s energy infrastructure and serve as the underground highways that transport energy across the country. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), Texas has more than 214,000 miles of distribution, transmission and gathering pipelines. Nationwide, more than two million miles of pipelines crisscross the U.S. safely transporting energy products, including natural gas, every day.
The process of supplying natural gas to homes and businesses begins with small-diameter gathering lines that collect the gas from drilling sites and feed it into larger transmission lines. Once inside transmission lines, the natural gas makes its way across the country propelled by compressor stations at key points along the route. Transmission pipelines deliver the gas to industrial users or local utilities at metering stations. And local distribution companies bring the natural gas to consumers through their own network of distribution lines.
Natural gas pipelines transport approximately one-quarter of the total volume of our nation’s freight and yet historically, according to government statistics, less than 1/100th of one percent of all transportation incidents are attributed to pipelines. According to National Transportation Safety Board statistics, pipelines are indisputably the safest way to transport natural gas and other energy products, both for the public and the environment.
When companies construct a new pipeline, they apply for permits from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for pipelines that cross Texas state lines or the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) for pipelines that begin and end in Texas. Pipeline route selection is a complex process and involves identifying and evaluating possible routes based on connection points, potential environmental concerns and impact to public and private property.
Technological advances have radically changed how natural gas pipelines are constructed, inspected and monitored compared to the first lines built over 150 years ago. Today, gathering and transmission pipelines are built with special coated steel to prevent corrosion. And companies monitor pipelines 24-hours a day from state-of-the-art operations control centers.
Pipeline companies follow strict regulations and standards to ensure pipeline safety. Pipeline personnel check for visible signs of leaks or corrosion during regular aerial and foot patrols. They use special equipment to inspect and clean the inside of pipelines; they routinely test valves and test gas samples to identify early signs of corrosion.
As a result, serious pipeline incidents are increasingly rare. In fact, according to the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), incidents have decreased 30 percent in the past 20 years, while the amount of gas delivered has increased 30 percent.
PHMSA incident data for Texas shows that in the past 10 years, 16 people were hospitalized and two people were fatally injured in natural gas gathering or transmission pipeline incidents.
Of course, even one injury is too many. The good news is that most serious pipeline incidents can be prevented. Nationwide, the leading cause of serious pipeline incidents is outside damage, typically a contractor, landscaper, farmer or do-it-yourself homeowner who hits the pipeline while digging.
Texas law requires contractors and homeowners to call their local One-Call Center by dialing 811 to have the location of underground utilities marked before starting an excavation project. Pipeline companies actively participate in the One-Call system and promote Texas One-Call laws through education and communication programs. Pipeline companies also host meetings and send information by mail to those who live and work near their pipelines.
As the Barnett Shale plays a larger role in onshore U.S. natural gas production, the need for additional gathering and transportation pipelines will increase. We all have a stake in ensuring reliable, affordable gas supplies. Pipelines are public infrastructure that benefits each of us and are a vital component in the U.S. energy portfolio. As residents of the Barnett Shale region, we need to understand the facts about pipelines, their safety record, and the role they play in the economic development of our community and our country.
Ed Ireland is the executive director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, a consortium of 11 of the leading energy companies operating in the Barnett Shale.