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GAO: Shale-Gas States Have No Idea Where Natural Gas Gathering Pipelines Are

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Speaking of urban drilling and gas releases in populated areas like Mansfield, the Government Accountability Office says the gathering pipelines used to collect natural gas from drill sites are unregulated, and their locations are often unknown.

The GAO conducted site visits in, among other places, the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The report is most interested in the shale gas boom and the attendant expansion of pipelines to carry that gas to market. It's a far safer means of conveyance than, say, some rig with better-than-good odds of wrecking on the highway, but it still merits more stringent oversight, the report says.

For example, of the 200,000 miles of onshore natural gas gathering pipelines, only 20,000 miles are regulated by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Now, that isn't to say that the Texas Railroad Commission doesn't regulate the industry (in fact, our rules are more stringent than the Feds') but "federal and state pipeline safety officials do not know the extent to which individual operators collect such information (safety risks, pipeline integrity, maintenance practices) and use it to monitor the safety of their pipelines."

The GAO thinks it's high time federal regulators put these mystery pipelines on the map. The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts shale gas will make up nearly half of the country's natural gas supply in just over two decades. In 2009, it was only 16 percent of total supply. They've already lost control.

U.S. pipeline authorities are apparently contemplating collecting intelligence on unregulated gathering pipelines. They have the authority, but have been reluctant to do so (probably because it will be a massive pain in the ass). The Texas Oil and Gas Association, the report says, is supportive of increased oversight in heavily populated areas like North Texas' Barnett Shale.

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