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Obama Officials May Study Safety Risks in Fracking Pipelines

The Obama administration may start collecting data on pipelines energy companies use to transport natural gas and oil extracted from shale by hydraulic fracturing, according to a government report.

Federal and state regulators lack enough information to determine the safety of pipelines that collect gas at well sites and carry the fuel to processing facilities, according to the report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s investigative arm.

The Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which oversees transmission pipelines, doesn’t collect data on smaller lines at the wells, according to the report.

“While the safety risks of federally unregulated, onshore hazardous liquid and gas gathering pipelines are generally considered to be lower than other types of pipelines, PHMSA is currently not able to determine the performance and safety of these gathering pipelines,” according to yesterday’s report.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves injecting millions of gallons of water, chemicals and sand thousands of feet underground in shale formations to free trapped oil and gas. A surge in exploration in shale formations has been accompanied by a “new infrastructure” of pipelines that may pose unknown safety risks, according to the report.

Sixteen state agencies cited “moderate or high safety risks” because regulators weren’t certain of the exact locations of pipelines, according to the report. Other concerns included construction quality, maintenance practices and unknown current conditions of pipelines, the GAO said.

The report suggested creating an online database for states to share information on practices to ensure safety of its unregulated pipelines.

Pipelines for hazardous materials and natural gas carry about two-thirds of U.S. energy supplies through a network covering about 2.5 million miles (4 million kilometers), the report said. The U.S. has about 200,000 miles of pipelines collecting natural gas at drilling sites, as well about 40,000 miles of gathering pipelines for hazardous materials.

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