- Texas Rep. Rafael Anchia, D, filed a series of bills in January that aim to increase oversight of natural gas pipelines and boost transparency at the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC), which oversees the state's utilities.
- The proposals follow a deadly explosion related to a gas leak last year that killed a 12-year-old girl in Anchia's district. The bills would, among other things, require gas companies to inform customers within 72 hours if a leak is found within a quarter mile of their property.
- Natural gas pipeline safety has been a growing concern for years, spurred by the deadly San Bruno disaster on PG&E's system in 2001, and more recently a series of explosions in Massachusetts in Columbia Gas' service territory.
Anchia says the deadly explosion last year that killed a young girl was preventable, and his proposals seek to boost regulatory oversight. But the lawmaker is also warning the bills will face opposition from the industry, and told local media that lobbyists are already saying some of the proposals are bad ideas.
"The reality is that if we have immediate action on the part of the regulator or the gas company, lives can be saved, and that's what these bills seek to do," Anchia told NBC affiliate KXAN.
But he added, "there are some very powerful forces that are going to seek to kill these bills. Already I got lobbyists coming to my office telling me what a bad idea some of these bills are."
The bills fall broadly into two categories: seeing greater transparency at the RRC, while pressing gas companies to take preventative steps.
The bills would accelerate the replacement of older cast iron and steel pipes, some of which are getting close to a century old. Gas companies would also face steeper fines for safety violations, and the state would create a searchable database of enforcement actions taken against utilities along with the real-time gas leak database.
"We need to replace rusted, corroded or faulty pipes in the state of Texas and make sure that our infrastructure is at 21st century standards," Anchia said. "And in order to do that, these bills will help us increase the transparency and the enforcement mechanisms that we need to make sure that that will occur."
Gas utilities operate more than 2.5 million miles of pipeline in every state, and system modernization and replacement is a key focus for all operators. But the recent explosions have drawn even more scrutiny and action.
New Jersey regulators last year approved a $1.9 billion, five-year gas system modernization plan proposed by Public Service Electric & Gas Company. And in Vermont, a hearing officer directed Vermont Gas System to undergo an investigation determining whether a pipeline was constructed properly and whether a licensed engineer approved the plans. DTE Energy announced plans to accelerate pipe replacement, making the system safer and reducing methane leaks.