Hearings and Business Meetings

SD-366 Energy Committee Hearing Room 02:30 PM

Mr. Michael W. Roberts

Manager, Field Service, Columbia Gas Transmission

Michael W. Roberts

Operations Manager
Columbia Gas Transmission Corporation

Before the National Parks Subcommittee
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

S. 1310, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area Natural Gas Pipeline Enlargement Act

September 22, 2005


     Michael W. Roberts
Testimony before the National Parks Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee
                     S. 1310, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
Natural Gas Pipeline Enlargement Act


Good afternoon Chairman Thomas and Members of the Subcommittee.  My name is Mike Roberts and I am Operations Manager in the State of Pennsylvania for Columbia Gas Transmission Corporation.  I have been with Columbia’s pipeline operations for 24 years, and for 16 of those years I have been located in Pennsylvania.

I am here today to testify on behalf of S. 1310, a bill to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to allow Columbia Gas Transmission Corporation to increase the diameter of a natural gas pipeline located in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. 

Columbia Gas Transmission is one of the largest interstate natural gas pipelines operating in the United States today.  Combined with the network of a sister pipeline company, our system includes nearly 17,000 miles of  underground pipelines, delivering more than one trillion cubic feet of natural gas annually to markets in 10 eastern states.  We also operate one of the largest natural gas storage systems in the country.

The company, a subsidiary of NiSource, Inc., and its predecessors have constructed and operated natural gas pipelines for more than 70 years.  As part of our operating plan, each year we invest a significant amount of capital in the process of upgrading and replacing portions of pipelines throughout our system to assure ongoing safe and reliable service to our customers.  Columbia also  incorporates best-practice techniques into our operations and maintenance programs to minimize disruption both to our customers and to property owners along the pipeline.

One of these lines, which we refer to as Line 1278, was installed in 1948 in the then-rural northeast region of Pennsylvania.  This line, which runs north-south along the state’s eastern border, became and remains an important part of our energy delivery system to key eastern markets.

Following an internal inspection of this pipeline, the United States Department of Transportation  directed Columbia Transmission in 2002 and 2003 to take actions going forward in its operation of Line 1278, including additional testing, corrosion prevention and replacement of portions of the pipeline.  To further comply with this directive, Columbia filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission  in December 2003 to replace about 43 miles of Line 1278, including a three and one-half mile section that now lies within the Delaware Water Gap Natural Recreation Area. This park was created by the National Park Service in 1965 through the acquisition of several parcels of property in the area.

The issue addressed by the legislation before you today relates to the right-of-way agreements now held by the  Park Service.  Columbia’s existing Line 1278 pipeline affects 14 of these tracts under the terms of the agreements negotiated with private property owners prior to the creation of the park.  Of these, 12 agreements include language that allows Columbia to increase the diameter of its pipeline.  However, two of the agreements, representing 892 linear feet, do not include such authorization.

Under current law, the Secretary of the Interior lacks authorization to enter into modification agreements for the existing rights-of way to allow an increase in the diameter of Line 1278, as proposed and approved by the FERC, from 14 inches to 20 inches in diameter.  To complete our project, we collaborated with National Park Service staff to craft language that was written into S. 1310, introduced jointly by Senators Specter and Santorum of Pennsylvania.

Timely action on this legislation will result in several beneficial outcomes. 

First, the replacement will standardize the size of Line 1278 at 20 inches in diameter throughout the area, which will in turn allow more efficient use of advanced internal inspection devices to assure safety and reliability of the pipeline and facilitate compliance with the directives of the DOT Pipeline Integrity Management Rule.  Consistency in size is important for these devices, which transverse the inside of the pipe and have the advantage of allowing us to test our pipelines with the least disruption to our customers,  to the communities adjacent to the line, and to the surrounding environment, while providing the most detailed information regarding the pipeline’s operations and current condition.

Second, it will allow Columbia to complete the upgrade of a 57-year-old pipeline within the timeframe approved by the DOT. Columbia is currently operating the pipeline at a reduced pressure as part of our agreement with DOT and relying on available capacity in other pipelines to meet market obligations during periods of high demand. With the new, upgraded line in place, Columbia will be less dependent on this practice. The increase in diameter from 14-inches to 20-inches will also increase the overall delivery reliability in the region.

Third, the replacement offers the added benefit of less intrusion in the future for maintenance and repair work in the Delaware Water Gap.  Through use of today’s pipeline coatings and other corrosion protection, regular inspections and participation in the Pennsylvania One Call Program, we can anticipate a useful life for the new pipeline that greatly exceeds the nearly 60 years of service provided by the existing pipeline.

A critical point to note is that the replacement with the slightly larger diameter pipe will require no additional construction impacts and will not change the existing permanent right-of-way that currently exists with the Delaware Water Gap.  The construction footprint is the same for the proposed 20-inch diameter  pipe as it is for the existing 14-inch diameter line.

Columbia has been working closely with the National Park Service during the permitting process, including NEPA review and the issuance of a special use permit from the Park.  Columbia has extensive plans in place for mitigating impacts during construction and for restoration following completion of our work.    Park Service staff  have been very helpful and cooperative in working toward a mutually-agreeable solution in this matter.

In this regard, I want to bring to your attention a typographical error in the bill.  On page 2, line 9 the bill refers to right-of-way number 16414.  The number should be 16413.  The Park Service is aware of this error and supports us in our request to change the right-of-way number during Committee consideration of the legislation.

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, I ask that my prepared statement be submitted for the record.  Thank you for your time and attention, and I will be happy to address any questions you may have.