Ms. Lutz received her Bachelor of the Arts degree from Western Washington University and her Masters in Planning from the University of British Columbia. She is certified with the American Institute of Certified Planners, and at the time of the interview worked as the Outreach Coordinator for the Pipeline Safety Trust, a group dedicated to informing the public on issues involving pipeline safety and regulation. The interview was conducted by email.
Q: First off, I'd like to ask a little about yourself! When did you first get involved with the Pipeline Safety Trust? How about pipelines in general? Would you say that learning more about pipelines has made you more or less concerned about the way they are managed?
A: I joined the Pipeline Safety Trust about 2.5 years ago, with no background in oil and gas transportation. They hired me to help with land use technical assistance to communities across the country, and it’s been a steep learning curve to understand the jurisdictional layers of authority when it comes to regulating pipelines. I do sometimes feel as if we are working in the dark ages when it comes to this topic, as many thousands of miles of pipelines in the US are still completely unregulated.
Q: Which programs that the Pipeline Safety Trust are working on, such as the annual pipeline safety conference or publishing the "Transparency of Pipeline Information," do you wish more people knew about? I found myself on the Pipeline Safety Trust's website often during my research, and I'm still finding entire sections I haven't looked at yet. Maybe you have a favorite?
A: I personally like the sections on land use planning near pipelines and the Local Government Guide to Pipelines as well as the section on how folks can get more involved in commenting on various federal rulemaking activities. We find that many people really appreciate our briefing papers to help with basic understanding of various pipeline topics.
Q: One of the statistics I kept on coming across from multiple "pipeline information" groups was that 90% of gathering pipelines are unregulated by the PHMSA. How concerning is this number, after taking into account state-by-state regulations and internal regulations the pipeline companies might impose on themselves?
A: The only state that regulates gathering lines in any substantive way is Ohio. Two years ago at our conference, PHMSA deputy associate administrator Linda Daugherty said “What keeps me up at night? Gathering lines,” when she was interviewed between sessions. (You can see some of her perspective by watching her speak here). We really don’t know what that percentage is, because we don’t know where and how many gathering lines there are. In the recently published notice of proposed rulemaking on the Safety of Hazardous Liquid Pipelines, PHMSA proposed to add gathering lines to the pipelines for which operators are required to submit annual and incident reports, which at least would give us a start to understanding the extent of this issue. Years ago, gathering lines were small diameter, low pressure pipelines that did not appear to cause much of a risk; but today gathering lines can be 42” diameter very high pressure lines that aren’t any different in their risk profile from transmission pipelines. There is no reason for them to be exempt. See below this message for a forwarded news article from Dec 6 giving an example of an incident that occurred this year on one of these gathering lines.
Q: The PHMSA also puts out a lot of information, much of which is referenced on the Pipeline Safety Trust's website. Do you see the Pipeline Safety Trust's role toward to PHMSA as more of a partner in distributing information, a watchdog to make sure the PHMSA is properly doing its job, somewhere in between, or completely separate in your roles and functions?
A: When Federal District Judge Rothstein agreed to a portion of the criminal penalties from the Bellingham pipeline tragedy going to start the Pipeline Safety Trust, she said “No industry polices itself very well… there is going to be the Trust…. They need to be listened to, they need to make a difference, because they’re the ones that will be the watchdogs.” Regulators are different than watchdogs; they’re supposed to make sure industry follows the rules, but unfortunately the rules do not prevent people from being killed or the environment from being polluted by oil and gas pipeline incidents that occur when those products are no longer contained as they’re supposed to be. We certainly appreciate that PHMSA has done a lot to make some of their information and data much more accessible to the public in the past few years.
To learn more about the Pipeline Safety Trust and their mission, visit www.pstrust.org. Although Ms. Lutz no longer works at the Pipeline Safety Trust, Rebecca Craven can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions relating to the Pipeline Safety Trust.