A common tactic used by anti-pipeline activists is promoting the idea that carbon pipelines are under regulated by the federal government. The truth is that carbon pipelines are regulated by the government at the federal, state, and local levels. But what does that mean and how does that work? Well, today, we’re going to dive into the answers to those questions and take a look at how our different levels of government work together to provide regulatory oversight.

At the Federal Level

Carbon pipelines fall under the purview of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which oversees their construction, operation, maintenance, and emergency response. Last year, PHMSA issued a notice that it is considering expanding its oversight of carbon pipelines, a move of which CAP is supportive.

PHMSA is responsible for setting the safety standards for all interstate pipelines, or pipelines that cross state lines. Intrastate pipelines, or pipelines that don’t cross state lines, can be held to even further safety standards set by the relevant state government.

At the State Level

State oversight is generally focused on a pipeline’s route and other permitting issues. Regulatory bodies review permit applications and have the ability to order Environmental Impact Statements. During this process, procedures and infrastructure exist to facilitate members of the public providing their input through public hearings, meetings, and online dockets.

The way state and local governments at the county level coordinate varies state by state. Since so much of the conversation on carbon pipelines is concentrated in the Midwest, below are six unique examples of how this oversight can function:

  • Minnesota – Permitting is handled through the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which has statewide authority.
  • Iowa – Permitting is done through the Iowa Utilities Board, however applications must take into consideration county requirements. County governments also have the ability to set specific standards that must be met in conditional-use permit applications.
  • North Dakota – Permitting is decided by the PUC. Counties can impose requirements on pipelines, but the statewide Public Service Commission has the ability to override those decisions.
  • South Dakota – The PUC oversees location, construction, and the operation of each pipeline, focused on environmental and community impact. At the county level, regulators are in charge approving the specific route.
  • Illinois – Permits are granted by the Illinois Commerce Commission. County governments are able to participate in the review, conduct a six-month study on the pipeline’s impact prior to construction, or create zoning laws to regulate pipelines near residential areas.
  • Nebraska – Without a state-wide permitting process having been enacted through legislation, county-level government regulates all routing and permitting issues.

The Context

The conversation about carbon pipelines has intensified because of new proposed pipeline projects, and those projects are in response to a market need. Development of carbon pipelines is advancing because carbon capture technology is a viable and efficient way to progress our nation’s environmental goals, while providing sustainable pathways for a variety of industries to support economic growth and local workforces.

The Takeaway

Carbon pipelines are not only regulated, but they are regulated effectively. Today, there are over 5,000 miles of carbon pipelines operating safely and efficiently throughout the United States. Since 2017, carbon pipelines have experienced 55 percent fewer incidents per mile than crude oil and 37 percent fewer incidents than refined products pipelines. To put that into context, 99.999 percent of oil transported via pipeline reaches its destination without incident.

New carbon pipeline projects currently under consideration are being held to strict safety, environmental, and land use standards at every level of government.