Proposed regs could tighten controls

Posted: Friday, November 18, 2005

Proposed regulations under consideration by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation would establish stricter controls over operations and maintenance of oil and gas pipeline systems.

That would include so-called “gathering and flow lines” that an analysis of state spill data conducted by Cook Inlet Keeper suggests are problematic. According to Keeper, a high percentage of Cook Inlet region oil line spills happen in unregulated oil field gathering and flow lines in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, rather than in transmission lines.

The draft regulations are discussed in an 80-page document released in September. In that document, Division of Spill Prevention and Response (SPAR) officials said regulatory oversight of pipelines that are generally referred to as gathering and flow lines “is warranted.”

That was based, SPAR officials said, on historical spill data indicating a need for better discharge prevention measures in gathering and flow lines, a lack of other federal or state oversight on those lines and the contention by those requesting such oversight that state law gives that responsibility to DEC.

According to the document, DEC spill data shows there were about 25 spills from gathering and flow lines around Cook Inlet between 1992 and 2005. The majority of those were caused by structural or mechanical failure. DEC also noted that during the same period, there were roughly 400 spills on the North Slope involving gathering and flow lines, totaling about 500,000 gallons.

The document also notes that the federal government “has recognized that gathering lines pose a potentially high risk to the environment, but federal regulatory oversight has been slow or nonexistent.”

Leslie Pearson, program manager for SPAR, said it likely would be early next year before a final draft of the regulations would be ready. The current version is in a public comment period, she said.

The oil industry has generally opposed regulation of gathering lines, saying the generally operate in remote areas, account for only small spills that are caused by corrosion, don’t impact water and have little environmental impact.

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