Here is the Powerpoint

Finding Local Stories
With Pipeline Data
Go Ahead! Dig!
Why do pipelines matter to your audience?
• They can blow people up or incinerate them
• They can gum up your lawn or destroy your house
• They can kill or harm wildlife
• There is probably one nearby
• They affect property values
• They may help economy and provide jobs
A Bit of Background on U.S. Pipelines
• Almost half a million miles of oil, natural gas, and hazardous liquid pipelines
across the U.S.
• Pipelines are relatively safe, and may be getting safer. But they still present
hazards to communities.
• The last legislation reauthorizing and upgrading U.S. pipeline safety program (P.L.
112-90) was signed January 2012. It expired last week.
• The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is the key
fed agency regulating pipeline safety. Without staffing and budget it can not do
the job.
• Corrosion and metal failure in aging pipelines a key cause of failure.
• Inspections, Automatic shutoff valves, and limits on operating pressure/temp are
key fixes.
• Other agencies: FERC, NTSB, TSA, DHS, Coast Guard
Where is the nearest pipeline?
• Big ones are easer to find; small ones are everywhere
• National Pipeline Mapping System (NPMS) – online and searchable
• NPMS – low-resolution data with limited access
• Private firm pipeline maps – e.g. Pennwell
• Use your eyes – many are signed and flagged
• They tend to follow certain predictable routes
You Are Here
You Are Near Here
National Pipeline Mapping System
• Run by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
(PHMSA) within the Dept. of Transportation
• Online and searchable, and thus useful for story reconnaissance
• Accuracy is less than perfect – ground-truthing needed
• Shows larger pipelines, not so much local collection and distribution
• Doesn’t tell you much about safety
• Useful in connection with your own map overlays
• Access is deliberately limited. Resolution is poor.
Maps: A Starting Point for Real Reporting
• Companies required to maintain maps; not to make them public?
• Publicly available maps are sketchy; ground-truthing needed
• One way to ground-truth: markers and signs
• Asking smart questions and digging for info even more important
• Ask about age, inspections, violations, operating limits.
• Investigate vulnerable populations, properties near pipelines
• Look for geographic/environmental links: rivers, lakes, wetlands,
estuaries, etc. Where are your drinking water supplies?
Some More Things To Worry About
• Pipelines are just a link in a larger oil/gas transport system. They occur in
conjunction with:
• Processing facilities
• Compressor and pumping stations
• Above-ground storage facilities
• Underground storage facilities
• Cyber- and tele-linked control systems
• Gathering/Collection lines
• Distribution lines
• Refineries
• Ports (see LNG)
Some Pipeline Map Sources
National Pipeline Mapping System (Public Viewer Here) and here
Energy Information Administration (EIA) pipeline & other maps, national scale
Energy Information Administration (EIA)
FERC Tariff Maps (via FERC docket eLibrary, specific to pipeline)
American Petroleum Institute (API – Trade/lobby group)
INGAA Interactive Interstate Gas Pipeline Map
Pennwell print and online (Private company $$) Okla. example
MapSearch (Private company $$, part of Pennwell)
Rextag (Private company $$)
Special maps for individual pipelines (e.g., Keystone XL or Pegasus). Generally, pipelines are
supposed to put maps on their websites. Try Googling name of pipeline.
• State-level maps from state regulatory agencies (e.g., Michigan)
Dimensions of a Pipeline Story
• Human Safety: What’s Nearby?
• Water Bodies: What’s Nearby?
• Critical Ecosystems: What’s Nearby?
• Regulatory Agencies: Federal and State
• Regulatory History: Inspections, Incidents, Violations, Plans
• History of Pipeline: Age, Construction, Leaks, Floods, Quakes, Failures
Example: San Bruno, CA, Explosion/Fire
• On Sept. 9, 2010, a 30-inch steel natural gas pipeline operated by Pacific
Gas & Electric failed, exploding into flames in San Bruno, Calif. Witnesses
first thought it was an earthquake and reported seeing a wall of fire 1,000
feet high.
• Eight people were killed. Fifty-eight were injured. Thirty-eight houses were
destroyed and more damaged.
• Subsequent investigations suggested the pipeline was flawed and had been
operated at too high a pressure.
• PG&E was indicted in 2014. There is a mass tort suit.
• Some great journalism exposed the many problems. Jaxon Van Derbeken of
the San Francisco Chronicle exemplifies it in this recent piece, and this one.
Example: Pegasus Pipeline Mayflower Spill
• On March 29, 2013, a rupture occurred in Exxon’s Pegasus Pipeline in Mayflower,
Arkansas. It was carrying heavy crude oil or dilbit from the Athabascan oil sands.
The pipeline carried about 95,000 barrels/day. An estimated 7,000 barrels spilled.
The 20-inch line was buried 24 inches below ground.
• Oil ran down the suburban streets, across lawns, and into storm drains that
ended in the nearby Lake Conway. Twenty-two homes were evacuated.
Homeowners filed a class-action suit.
• This spill was a case where the pipeline company and PHMSA did very little to let
the public in on the causes of the spill, the response to it, or the plans for
restarting the pipeline. When citizen groups tried to take aerial pictures of the
spill site, Exxon had the airspace closed.
• Good journalism was done by the Arkansas Times and InsideClimate News. When
ICN reporter Lisa Song entered the “public information office,” she was
threatened with arrest. As Exxon prepared to restart the pipeline, ICN’s Elizabeth
Douglass reported how PHMSA withheld the restart plan at Exxon’s request.
Example: Kalamazoo River
• In July of 2010, a break in a pipeline operated by Enbridge caused more than a
million gallons of oil to flow into the Kalamazoo River from a tributary. It was the
largest inland U.S. oil spill, and one of the costliest in history.
• The line was carrying diluted bitumen (dilbit) from Athabascan tar sands.
Although alarms sounded, Enbridge took nearly 18 hours to shut down the
pipeline. This was the same company that was seeking permission from the State
Department to build the Keystone XL pipeline.
• The spill educated experts about the especially mucky properties of spilled dilbit.
Even after the 35 miles of the Kalamazoo River that had been closed were
“cleaned up,” dredging was required because the oil had sunk below river
• A lot of great journalism was done by reporters at InsideClimate News, who
covered the event doggedly as many other media ignored it. Their book-ification
of that coverage won a Pulitzer Prize in 2013 for Lisa Song, Elizabeth McGowan,
and David Hasemyer.
State Agencies Matter
• State and sometimes even local agencies have important roles in pipeline
safety. Some possible on-ramps:
• State agency with specific regulatory authority. Good state-by-state agency
listing from Natl Assn of Pipeline Safety Representatives.
• Also mildly helpful is state-by-state rundown/listing via Pipeline Safety
Trust, which really just deep-links to PHMSA info.
• Does your Public Service Commission (or other utility regulator) have
authority? Helpful state-by-state listings online from NARUC here and FCC
• Even if pipeline location is a given, local planning and zoning agencies can
sometimes influence what (possibly vulnerable) facilities are located
Safety vs Security (vs Secrecy): a Note
• Pipeline “incidents” caused an average of 14 deaths per year from
2007 through 2011 in U.S.
• Pipeline incidents also caused injuries and property damage.
• Common causes: 3rd party digging, corrosion, control/mechanical
failure, operator error, flood, earthquake
• No pipeline incidents caused by terrorists in U.S. (a few attempts)
• Pipelines are unprotected and impossible to defend.
• It is impossible to hide pipelines from terrorists
• “Security” used as pretext for hiding safety-related info from public
Pipelines and Public Information Access Issues
• Limits on NPMS public access
• Claims of proprietary information
A Note on FERC Tariff Maps
• In a Nov. 20, 2014, final rule, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission eliminated a
former requirement that pipeline companies file and update maps as part of their tariffs
– instead requiring them to post updated maps on their websites.
• Maps submitted before that rule became effective are still part of the FERC docket
• If you are looking for geo info on a specific pipeline – and you know the name of that
pipeline, then these FERC maps can help. Resolution varies.
• You will find other maps in other parts of the FERC docket (e.g., environmental impact
• Finding the docket for a particular pipeline is the trick. This search page may help a little.
This index may help with recently approved or pending pipelines. Or this one. Try
Googling the pipeline name with the additional term “FERC” in hopes of getting docket
• This may help with the local view, not a regional overview. Sadly, pipeline websites do
not always live up to what we hope for.
Potential Data Sources for Pipeline Reporting
• PHMSA Incident Data (online, searchable) also here
• PHMSA Enforcement Data (online, searchable)
• USCG National Response Center spill data (online, downloadable)
• EPA Toxics Release Inventory
Sources and Links
• “Pipelines: The Invisible Danger,” Austin American-Statesman, July 22, 2001, by Jeff
Nesmith and Ralph Haurwitz (not online for free).
• “Keeping America’s Pipelines Safe and Secure: Key Issues for Congress,” Congressional
Research Service (R41536), January 9, 2013, by Paul Parformak.
• “The Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You’ve Never Heard of,” InsideClimate
News, April 15, 2013, by Elizabeth McGowan, Lisa Song and David Hasemyer.
• Wikipedia “List of Pipeline Accidents in the United States”
• “Obama Signs Pipeline Safety Bill,” Los Angeles Times, January 4, 2012, by Richard Simon.
• Naveena Sadasivam’s 2015 IRE slides and tipsheet on pipelines. She’s with InsideClimate
• “Exxon, PHMSA Withholding Key Documents on Pegasus Pipeline as Restart Nears,”
InsideClimate News, March 25, 2014, by Elizabeth Douglass.
Source Organizations
• Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) main site
or public affairs.
• Pipeline Safety Trust (safety advocacy group)
• Pipeline Safety Coalition (safety advocacy group)
• National Assn of Pipeline Safety Representatives (state pipeline safety
• Interstate Natural Gas Assn of America (INGAA) (gas pipeline trade group)
• Association of Oil Pipe Lines (trade group)
• American Petroleum Institute (trade/lobby group)
• Pipeline Assn for Public Awareness (Industry group)