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Gathering Unregulated Pipeline Data GAO-12-388

On March 22, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued GAO-12-388 on Pipeline Safety, “Collecting Data and Sharing Information of Federally Unregulated Gathering Pipelines Could Help Enhance Safety.” While the safety risks of onshore gathering pipelines that are not regulated by PHMSA are generally considered to be lower than for other types of pipelines, PHMSA does not collect comprehensive data to identify the safety risks of unregulated gathering pipelines.

In response to a GAO survey, state pipeline safety agencies cited construction quality, maintenance practices, unknown or uncertain locations, and limited or no information on pipeline integrity as among the highest risks for federally unregulated pipelines. Without data on these risk factors, pipeline safety officials are unable to assess and manage safety risks associated with these pipelines. Furthermore, changes in pipeline operational environments cited in response to GAO’s survey and by industry officials could also increase safety risks for federally unregulated gathering pipelines. This report identifies the safety risks that exist, if any, with onshore hazardous liquid and natural gas gathering pipelines that are not currently under PHMSA regulation; and, practices States use to help ensure the safety of these pipelines.

A small number of state pipeline safety agencies GAO surveyed reported using at least one of five practices that were most frequently cited to help ensure the safety of federally unregulated pipelines. These practices include:

  1. damage prevention programs,
  2. considering areas of highest risk to target resources,
  3. safety inspections,
  4. public outreach and communication, and
  5. increased regulatory attention on operators with prior spills or leaks.

The GAO is recommending that the DOT should (1) collect data on federally unregulated hazardous liquid and gas gathering pipelines and (2) establish an online clearinghouse or other resource for sharing information on pipeline safety practices.

For more information, contact Susan A. Fleming at (202) 512-2834 or

For a full copy of the GAO-12-388 report, contact Jessica Roger.