Environmental And Safety Advocates Call For Stronger Standards to Address Pipeline Methane Leaks

These protective standards keep communities safe and help make climate progress


Alexandria Trimble, Earthjustice, atrimble@earthjustice.org

Kenneth Clarkson,   Pipeline Safety Trust,  kenneth@pstrust.org

Sarah McBride, Moms Clean Air Force, smcbride@momscleanairforce.org

Lily Jones, Environmental Defense Fund, lijones@edf.org

This morning, leaders from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) received a clear message from more than 85,000 public comments urging the agency to finalize its Gas Pipeline Advanced Leak Detection and Repair Rule by the summer.

Pipeline Safety Trust, Moms Clean Air Force, Environmental Defense Fund, and Earthjustice hand delivered comments to the DOT calling for finalization of the rule by DOT Secretary Buttigieg and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the agency tasked with ensuring the safe construction and operation of methane gas pipeline infrastructure — and ensuring protection of the environment and communities.

“We’re at a pivotal moment for climate action. Secretary Buttigieg must direct PHMSA to finalize these protective standards as soon as possible to keep communities and the climate safe,” said Nick Haas, Project Manager, Federal Regulatory Campaigns for EDF.

“The proposed standards would require gas pipeline operators around the country to survey their infrastructure more regularly, use advanced methane detection technologies, and fix leaks faster,” added Haas.

Gas pipelines are a major source of methane pollution. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas over 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the near-term. An EDF analysis found gas pipelines nationwide are leaking as much as 2.6 million tons of methane each year, equal to nearly 50 million passenger cars driven for a year. Since gas gathering pipelines transport unprocessed natural gas, leaks from these pipelines can threaten public health by exposing communities living near gathering lines to Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and other pollutants that can increase risk of respiratory issues, cancer or other health conditions.

PHMSA’s current gas pipeline standards are dangerously out of date and insufficient. They haven’t been updated in decades, do not account for the climate harm caused by methane leaks, do not require the repair of many leaks and lack specifications for technology performance.

PHMSA has proposed updated pipeline safety standards, but despite being directed by Congress to implement them by the end of 2021, these standards are still not finalized. The proposed standards would ensure that operators find and fix more pipeline leaks through improved leak surveying practices and better deployment of advanced technologies.

“More people died from natural gas pipeline failures in 2023 than any other year in decades. The public expects pipeline companies to use effective equipment to find leaks and fix them promptly. We look forward to having the regulations finally catch up to the public’s expectations,” Pipeline Safety Trust Executive Director Bill Caram said.

Scientists found pipeline leak density to be 37% higher in communities of color. Researchers have also found that U.S. counties with more socially vulnerable populations tend to have a higher density of natural gas transmission and gathering pipelines — indicating that pipelines are part of the cumulative burdens faced by vulnerable communities.

“Communities like mine in Pennsylvania are surrounded by gathering and transmission pipelines. Our families are living with the threat of dangerous leaks every day that PHMSA delays finalizing these protections,” said Rachel Meyer, a resident of Beaver County and Field Organizer for Moms Clean Air Force. “I will never forget when the Revolution pipeline leaked and then exploded, destroying a home in a nearby township in 2018. We know it’s just a matter of time before the next leak, but PHMSA can do something about that today.”

Experiences like this are detailed in the comments delivered today, validating the need for DOT to urgently finalize comprehensive, strong pipeline leak standards to protect communities and reduce methane emissions.

Three pipelines under a blue sky with puffy white clouds.
(Zora Zhuang / Getty Images)

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