Environmental and Land Use Planning
Project Management and Facilitation

Pennsylvania’s witnessing a boom in energy development and the transportation infrastructure associated with oil and gas development. Planners and local officials need to consider how that phenomenon will affect them.

Having served on the “Environmental Protection Workgroup” of PA Governor Wolf’s “Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force”, I recognize that pipelines will likely impact a large majority of Pennsylvania’s 2,562 municipalities. And regardless of whether you or I think domestic oil and gas is a pathway to a sustainable energy future, municipalities will likely need to accommodate this “use” for the foreseeable future. But if we’re going to do this, let’s do it right.

While the management of pipelines can be a regulatory quagmire, local municipalities do have an important role to play. Here are some of the things municipalities should consider.

One – Keep the lines of communication open.

Municipalities that currently have pipelines, as well as those in which pipelines are proposed, should reach out to pipeline companies, adjacent communities and other government agencies to initiate a dialogue. Discuss route planning and encourage pipeline companies to review municipal comprehensive plans. Schedule public forums in order to understand the pipeline company’s objectives and discuss resident concerns. Starting a dialogue early, establishing points of contact with all those involved, and openly discussing impacts, can help manage the risks associated with pipeline development.

Two  – Update your comprehensive plan.

Municipalities need to acknowledge this type of transportation infrastructure in their comprehensive plans and make provisions for it (and as we know, PA case law essentially requires municipalities to accommodate all uses with their borders). Among other things, make sure your comprehensive plan recognizes existing and proposed pipelines, examines the benefits and risks of pipelines, commits your community to monitoring existing and proposed activity, considers enacting local regulations complimentary to state and federal law, references county and state planning goals, and commits to increased communication with pipeline operators, as well as with county and state agencies, regarding pipeline activity. Your comprehensive plan provides the rational nexus between planning and regulation and so it is crucial that you make this connection if you wish to develop a regulatory approach to pipeline activity.

Three – Consider local regulations to address pipeline uses.

Perhaps the most significant publication to address pipeline planning and regulation at the local level is “Partnering to Further Enhance Pipeline Safety in Communities Through Risk-Informed Land Use Planning”, published by PIPA (Pipelines and Informed Planning Alliance). This 2010 publication, sponsored by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), an arm of the Federal Department of Transportation, developed a series of “risk-informed land use” practices near transmission pipelines. The PIPA effort also served as the basis for a regulatory approach developed for Pennsylvania municipalities by Gaadt Perspectives. Working with local groups under a grant program sponsored by PHMSA, we evaluated “Best Practices” standards and created a four-prong regulatory strategy that addresses surface land uses affiliated with pipelines (providing for uses not otherwise permitted in most ordinances), street opening standards (providing for the regulation of street openings, installations and driveways), standards for new development in proximity to pipelines, and municipal comprehensive plans revisions. These strategies are readily available to anyone interested in considering local approaches to pipeline management.

Four – Do your homework.

Regardless of how you address pipelines, take the time to educate yourself about the issues. Google the following for more information or contact us for further help.

  • Pipeline Safety Trust (a national non-profit)
  • Chester County Pipeline Information Center (PIC) (the model ordinances prepared by Gaadt Perspectives and partners are available here)
  • Pipeline Safety Coalition (a PA non-profit)
  • Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)
  • Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)
  • National Pipeline Mapping System (NPMS) (provides mapping information to government agencies, pipeline operators and the general public)
  • PA Public Utilities Commission