Pipeline Decommissioning Needs Improvement

THURSDAY, APRIL 4, 2024


The U.S. Government Accountability Office recently released a new report that suggests proper pipeline decommissioning on federal lands is hindered by insufficient bonding, data limitations and ambiguous requirements.

If not taken out of service properly, oil and natural gas pipelines may pose safety and environmental risks, such as spills, emissions or explosions, according to the report.

About the Study

Gathering pipelines can carry natural gas, crude oil and other hazardous liquids from production wells to processing facilities, refineries and transmission pipelines. Operators should reportedly decommission gathering lines after oil and gas production has ended to ensure any remaining gathering lines are safe and to restore the land to its natural state.

However, in incidents such as one in 2017, homeowners accidentally struck an improperly decommissioned gathering line on their property, causing an explosion that killed two people and injured two others.

According to the GAO, oil and gas pipeline operators have installed at least 384,000 miles of onshore gathering lines across the United States. The office was reportedly asked to review issues related to decommissioning oil and gas gathering lines on federal lands.

The report from earlier this year examines the risks associated with gathering lines that are not decommissioned properly or in a timely manner and how agencies oversee decommissioning of gathering lines on federal lands.

Additionally, the GAO reviewed relevant laws, regulations, policies and guidance related to overseeing decommissioning pipelines, as well as conducted a literature search to assess risks associated with improper decommissioning.

The office also interviewed agency headquarters and field office officials, in addition to state agency officials, representatives from the oil and gas industry, environmental advocacy groups and pipeline safety organizations.

The GAO says it found that agency efforts to ensure proper decommissioning may be hindered by insufficient bonding, data limitations and ambiguous requirements.

While agencies have taken steps to improve the data they have on gathering lines, those steps have been ad hoc. None of the agencies reportedly have a documented plan to ensure they are collecting and maintaining the data needed to oversee decommissioning activities.

The federal government has previously stepped in to decommission orphaned gathering lines—lines without an identifiable responsible party. However, the GAO notes, agencies have limited resources.

While the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provided additional funding, agencies reported that the funding will not be sufficient to decommission all orphaned infrastructure.

Agencies need to analyze the risks associated with gathering lines they oversee, which would allow them to adequately prioritize those gathering lines that pose the greatest safety, environmental, or fiscal risks for either oversight attention if lines are active, or decommissioning if lines are orphaned.

Agency Recommendations

As a result of the findings, the GAO made several recommendations, including that agencies develop plans to improve data collection for oversight purposes and identify the gathering lines with the greatest safety, environmental, or fiscal risks to prioritize for oversight and decommissioning.

According to the accountability office, the agencies generally concurred with their recommendations. Those nine recommendations, affecting the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture, include:

  • The Director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) should develop a documented plan to ensure the agency collects and maintains the data necessary to oversee the decommissioning of gathering lines;
  • The Director of the BLM should further specify when gathering lines should be decommissioned following the termination or revocation of rights-of-way;
  • The Director of the BLM should analyze all gathering lines BLM oversees to identify and prioritize those that pose the greatest safety, environmental, or fiscal risks for oversight and decommissioning;
  • The Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) should develop a documented plan to ensure the agency collects and maintains the data necessary to oversee the decommissioning of gathering lines;
  • The Director of the FWS should analyze all gathering lines FWS oversees to identify and prioritize those that pose the greatest safety, environmental, or fiscal risks for oversight and decommissioning;
  • The Director of the Nation Park Service (NPS) should develop a documented plan to ensure the agency collects and maintains the data necessary to oversee the decommissioning of gathering lines;
  • The Chief of the Forest Service should develop a documented plan to ensure the agency collects and maintains the data necessary to oversee the decommissioning of gathering lines;
  • The Chief of the Forest Service should further specify when gathering lines should be decommissioned following the termination or revocation of rights-of-way; and
  • The Chief of the Forest Service should analyze all gathering lines the Forest Service oversees to identify and prioritize those that pose the greatest safety, environmental, or fiscal risks for oversight and decommissioning.

The full report can be read here.

   

Tagged categories: Environmental Controls; Government; Health & Safety; Health and safety; NA; North America; Oil and Gas; Pipeline; Pipelines; Pipes; Program/Project Management; Safety

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