Legislation passed by Louisiana’s House and Senate in May urges the state’s commissioner of conservation and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to study hazards posed by oil and gas pipelines, including those in navigable waterways.
Hurricanes, tropical storms and a shrinking coastline have damaged and exposed some of the state’s submerged pipelines in recent decades. In addition, poorly marked, abandoned pipelines are navigation threats.
“This legislation is in response to business owners and residents who voiced concerns over pipelines that are no longer properly buried because of coastal erosion and prior storm surges,” said the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Julie Stokes. Her district covers parts of Kenner and Metairie next to Lake Pontchartrain in Jefferson Parish near New Orleans. “Pipelines in navigable waterways must be properly buried to ensure the safety of the maritime industry and marine recreation.”
In an accident near Lafitte, just south of New Orleans, the towboat Shanon E. Settoon hit a submerged gas pipeline on March 12, 2013. The pipeline burst into flames and fire engulfed the towboat, which belonged to Settoon Towing of Pierre Part, La. The fire lasted for days. Capt. Chad James Breaux Sr. was seriously burned in the accident and died a month later.
The new legislation, referred to as Louisiana House Concurrent Resolution 143, requests that the state study buried pipelines and make recommendations to Louisiana’s House and Senate committees on natural resources by March 1 of next year — before the next legislative session starts on April 13, 2015. “That allows time for any legislation to be drafted in response to the report produced by DNR,” said David Zoller, district director for Stokes.
Louisiana has roughly 60,000 miles of pipelines crisscrossing navigable waterways, major highways and railroads, according to Patrick Courreges, spokesman for DNR. Pipelines are concentrated in the state’s 19 southernmost parishes near the Gulf of Mexico. The Office of Conservation, which is within the DNR, regulates intrastate pipelines under waterways, Courreges said.
“Jurisdiction starts and ends inside state boundaries,” he said.
DNR’s program oversees the construction, acquisition, abandonment and interconnection of intrastate natural gas pipelines, along with transportation and use of gas supplies. Procedures exist for safely abandoning pipelines in place so that defunct pipes don’t necessarily have to be removed, Courreges said. A DNR study on intrastate pipelines begins this summer.
“Any pipelines crossing state lines are federal” and regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation, he said. Oil and gas pipelines also lie offshore in federal jurisdiction, starting three miles from the coast. The departments of Transportation and Interior, the U.S. Coast Guard and other federal agencies oversee Louisiana’s offshore pipelines.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed a bill on June 6 squashing a lawsuit brought in mid-2013 by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, an independent board in New Orleans. The suit sought damages from oil and gas companies because of canals they cut through wetlands for decades to haul equipment and install pipelines. Those canals have hastened coastal land loss, according to wetlands experts.
Louisiana’s pipeline system provides natural gas to most of the nation through connections with interstate lines. The Henry Hub in Vermilion Parish is the pricing point for natural gas futures contracts traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange. A top U.S. oil and gas producer, Louisiana is second only to Texas in refining capacity.