PSC likely to ask 2019 Legislature for an additional pipeline inspector

Oct 9, 2017

Public Service Commissioners Brian Kroshus (l); chairman Randy Christmann; and Julie Fedorchak.
Credit Dave Thompson / Prairie Public

Public Service Commissioners say they may have to ask the 2019 Legislature for more staff to inspect natural gas pipelines.

Right now, the state has 1 and ½ positions for that inspection.

Commissioner Brian Kroshus said the concern is the federal requirement of the number of inspection days.

"By the year 2020, we will have to demonstrate that we will be able to conduct 210 inspection days in the field," Kroshus said. "We're currently at 136."

Kroshus said the main reason for more inspection days is a growing natural gas infrastructure.

"There's more and more infrastructure being placed," Kroshus said. "We have to insure it's safe for the public."

Commission chairman Randy Christmann said the federal agency -- the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration -- is shifting more of the inspection burden on the states.

"Our options are ultimately going to be to add another inspector, at a cost to the state, or to get less reimbursement from the federal government for failing to meet that standard," Christmann said. "That would also come at a cost to the state."

The PSC has applied to PHMSA for $354,000. Kroshus said the state normally will receive about 60 to 80 percent of that.

Christmann said the PSC made the request to the 2017 Legislature. It was taken out of the budget, because of tight state revenues. Christmann said he understands that, and it means the request will have to go to the 2019 Legislative session. But Christmann said training of a new inspector  could become an issue.

"A new hire in the spring or summer of 2019 is not going to have been trained in," Christmann said. "It takes years to get the adequate training. We're going to be in a tough situation moving forward."

Commissioner Julie Fedorchak said it’s an important program.

"Our staff is double-checking the work of the safety staff of all the companies," Fedorchak said. "These systems go right up into people's homes. It's a great product, but it needs to be done right."