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Planning Near Pipelines

This page focuses on issues related to land uses and land development on property crossed by transmission pipeline easements or located near transmission pipeline easements, including links to the PIPA recommended practices and a glossary of terms and acronyms. It is part of MRSC's series on Pipeline Safety.


It wasn't until after the 1999 Bellingham pipeline explosion that local governments in Washington started to look at issues related to planning near transmission pipelines. Fortunately, the initial efforts here in Washington were soon followed by a federally supported effort to bring together a large stakeholder group to make recommendations for procedures and regulations related to land uses and land development near pipelines. The federal Pipelines and Informed Planning Alliance (PIPA) report is a trove of common sense and good ideas. Local government planners can review this comprehensive document and propose appropriate land use regulations that meet the circumstances of their communities.

Funding for This Project

This series of webpages on planning near pipelines was developed with funding provided as part of a federal community technical assistance grant from the United States Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration (PHMSA). A grant was received to provide technical and other assistance to communities in the state of Washington where hazardous liquid and natural gas transmission pipelines currently exist. The goal is to enhance public safety and health in these areas by improving local government land use planning and permitting practices in the vicinity of transmission pipelines.

The Association of Washington Cities (AWC) was the grantee, but AWC partnered with a wide range of Northwest pipeline safety stakeholders: MRSC; the Pipeline Safety Trust (PST); the Washington State Citizens Advisory Commission on Pipeline Safety; the Washington State Association of Counties (WSAC); the Northwest Gas Association; and the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC). See WUTC Pipeline Safety Program.

One of the activities funded by the grant is a comprehensive webpage explaining the "recommended practices" for land use planning around pipelines developed by the PIPA task force during 2008 and 2009. The federal grant also covered the costs for speakers to make presentations to local government planning commissions and legislative bodies in the State of Washington. (See presentations cited below).

This information is intended to assist local governments in establishing appropriate land use regulations near major energy transmission pipelines: the large diameter pipes (sometimes up to 36 inches in diameter) operating under high pressure, and typically transporting hazardous liquids (gasoline, jet fuel, etc.) or natural gas. There is also a vast network of smaller diameter distribution lines that carry natural gas through our communities -- out to neighborhoods and individual homes and businesses. Though these smaller distribution pipelines have their own risks and can cause considerable injuries and damage, they are not the focus of the information presented here.

Washington local governments should keep in touch with MRSC as well as the Pipeline Safety Trust. Representatives of both organizations are available to go to Washington communities and explain the planning options. Land use ordinances that incorporate some of the recommended practices will be posted in this website. (See Planning Near Pipelines: Sample Land Use Ordinances .)

Planning Near Pipelines Webinar

MRSC invites you to watch Planning Near Pipelines, a two-part recorded webinar discussing the risks posed by major energy pipelines and a range of planning options local governments can take to enhance the safety of those who live or work near those pipelines. "Recommended practices" developed by a large stakeholder group, along with sample ordinances, are detailed in the accompanying webpages.

Background, Stakeholders and Their Roles

Transmission pipelines are located in 28 Washington counties and are either in, or within one mile of over

Following the Bellingham disaster, many city and county officials across the state were surprised to discover that federal regulation and oversight of interstate pipelines were relatively lax. Fortunately, federal laws were subsequently amended, and federal regulation is now stronger. In our state, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) is actively involved in the regulation of intrastate pipelines and partners with federal regulators to ensure that federal regulations for interstate pipelines are followed. But federal and state pipeline regulation only deals with the design, construction, maintenance and operation of pipelines.

There are no federal or state regulations concerning what land uses are appropriate on lands in the vicinity of transmission pipelines. This is a matter of local government control. Unfortunately, even after the Bellingham tragedy, cities and counties have avoided establishing land use development procedures and regulations that take into account the risks presented by transmission pipelines. As urban uses and development expand into areas where existing transmission pipelines are situated, or where new pipelines are being proposed, local government officials need to acknowledge, discuss and address the risks that transmission pipelines pose to our communities, as well as the risks that increased human activities pose to the integrity of these pipelines.

Before considering changes to local land use procedures and regulations concerning transmission pipelines, it is necessary to understand who is involved (the stakeholders) and their respective roles in the process.

Stakeholders and Their Roles

  • Local Governments. Cities and counties have primary authority to establish land use regulations within their jurisdictions, including all lands crossed by or near transmission pipeline easements.
  • Developers. Developers of residential or commercial projects (both large and small) are frequently direct landowners or have an ownership interest in properties crossed by or near transmission pipeline easements. They often are not knowledgeable about pipeline safety issues.
  • Private Landowners. They typically own most of the land crossed by the pipeline operators' easements or near the easements. They will be directly affected by any new land use regulations that impose restrictions on development. [Keep in mind that transmission pipeline easements also cross public lands owned by federal, state, local and tribal governments, or use rights of way controlled by local governments.]
  • Pipeline Operators. Easements provide pipeline operators the right to install, operate and repair their pipelines, and to place limits on what can be done by private and public landowners within those easements.

There Are Three Options Open to Local Governments

  1. Do nothing and keep your fingers crossed, hoping that no serious pipeline failures occur within your jurisdiction. There are no federal or state "mandates" requiring that you consider these pipeline safety issues.
  2. Assume the worst and impose draconian regulations to safeguard the public from all possible risk in the event that a pipeline does rupture and ignite.
  3. Choose from a wide range of "recommended practices" that seek to protect the pipeline from damage and lessen the injuries and damage if a pipeline failure occurs.

Options one and two are extreme positions, and are probably not consistent with the values of your populace. Option three requires that planners and local government officials educate themselves about pipeline safety concerns and the recommended practices discussed here, assess the level of safety concern in their community, then adopt reasonable measures to promote the health and safety of the community.

PIPA Recommended Practices

Recommended practices were developed by a taskforce convened by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). The taskforce is referred to as the Pipelines and Informed Planning Alliance (PIPA). PIPA's report, Partnering to Further Enhance Pipeline Safety In Communities Through Risk-Informed Land Use Planning: Final Report of Recommended Practices, called the PIPA Final Report.

Building Safe Communities: Pipeline Risk and its Application to Local Government Decisions is a companion report to the PIPA Final Report. It provides a good summary of the risks posed by both hazardous liquid and natural gas transmission pipelines. The report provides statistics showing injuries and fatalities by year, and the causes of pipeline ruptures. Data showing the age of pipelines across the country is included. Additionally, the report discusses the risks of other modes of energy transport (roads and railroads). This is a good overview for local government officials to review so that they understand the accident trends and the need for careful land use planning near major energy pipelines.

The report, Partnering to Further Enhance Pipeline Safety in Communities through Risk- Informed Land Use Planning, offers nearly 50 recommended practices for local communities, developers and pipeline operators to use to help reduce the safety risks that result from growth of communities near pipelines. Each "recommended practice" contains a number designation and a title. Both the Baseline (BL) and New Development (ND) practices contain a wide range of options. Although they are recommended practices, communities should not hesitate to modify them to address their particular situations and their own tolerance for risk.

The recommendations offer options on how land-use planning and development decisions can help protect existing pipeline infrastructure and growing communities. The report also provides recommendations on how communities can gather information about local transmission pipelines and how local planners, developers and pipeline operators should communicate during all phases of new development to understand pipeline risks, and how to minimize pipeline excavation damages during site preparation and construction. We encourage you to review the full PIPA document so you have an understanding of the context and the role of local government in this process. If you have questions, you can contact Jim Doherty at MRSC, 206-625-1300, or the Pipeline Safety Trust, 360-543-5686.

PIPA Documents

Documents are posted on Land Use Planning and Transmission Pipelines - Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), U.S. Department of Transportation

Recommended Resources

Agencies and Associations

Related Documents



  • Distribution Pipeline (Distribution Line): A distribution line is a line used to supply natural gas to the consumer. A distribution line is located in a network of piping located downstream of a natural gas transmission line.
  • Easement: An easement is an acquired privilege or right, such as a right-of-way, afforded a person or company to make limited use of another person or company's real property. For example, the municipal water company may have an easement across your property for the purpose of installing and maintaining a water line. Similarly, oil and natural gas pipeline companies acquire easements from property owners to establish rights-of-way for construction, maintenance and operation of their pipelines.
  • Encroachment: Encroachment refers to the unauthorized use of a right-of-way in violation of the terms by which the right-of-way was established (e.g., easement).
  • Hazardous Liquid: Pipeline safety regulations identify petroleum, petroleum products, or anhydrous ammonia as hazardous liquids.
  • High Consequence Area (HCA): A high consequence area is a location that is specially defined in pipeline safety regulations as an area where pipeline releases could have greater consequences to health and safety or the environment. Regulations require a pipeline operator to take specific steps to ensure the integrity of a pipeline for which a release could affect an HCA and, thereby, the protection of the HCA.
  • Interstate Pipeline: An interstate pipeline is a pipeline that extends beyond the boundaries of one state. Technically speaking: An interstate pipeline is a pipeline or that part of a pipeline that is used in transportation of hazardous liquids or natural gas in interstate or foreign commerce. Intrastate Pipeline: An intrastate pipeline is a pipeline or that part of a pipeline that is entirely contained within one state's borders. An intrastate pipeline system may be under a state's regulatory jurisdiction as long as that state has a pipeline safety and inspection program that meets or exceeds the federal program. The state may opt to have its intrastate pipelines regulated by federal inspectors.
  • Locate: Locate refers to the process of determining the existence and location of an underground facility, such as an oil or gas pipeline, and indicating that location through the use of stakes, flags, paint or some other customary manner. Such markings identify the location of the underground facility so that excavators can avoid damage to the facility when digging.
  • Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS): OPS is the agency within the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), that is responsible for regulating the safety of design, construction, testing, operation, maintenance, and emergency response of U.S. oil and natural gas pipeline facilities.
  • One-Call System: A one-call system is a system that allows excavators (individuals, professional contractors, and governmental organizations) to make one telephone call to provide notification of their intent to dig to underground facility operators. The one call center will then notify all underground facility operator members of the intended excavation along with the date and location of the excavation. The facility operators or, in some cases, the one-call center can then locate the facilities before the excavation begins so that extra care can be taken to avoid damaging the facilities. All 50 states within the U.S. are covered by one-call systems. Most states have laws requiring the use of the one-call system at least 48 hours before beginning an excavation.
  • Pipeline Operator: A pipeline operator is a company or person who is responsible for the operation, maintenance and management of the pipeline.
  • Risk Assessment: Risk assessment is a step in the risk management process. Risk assessment is measuring two quantities of the risk, the magnitude of the potential loss, and the probability that the loss will occur. Risk assessment may be the most important step in the risk management process, and may also be the most difficult and prone to error. Once risks have been identified and assessed, the steps to properly deal with them are much more programmatical.
  • Third Party Damage: Third-party damage includes all outside force damage to underground facilities (e.g., pipelines) that can occur during excavation activities. Responsibility for preventing underground facility damage is shared by all stakeholders.


  • API: American Petroleum Institute
  • CGA: Common Ground Alliance
  • CFR: Code of Federal Regulations
  • FERC: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
  • HAZMAT: hazardous materials
  • IBC: International Building Codes
  • IFC: International Fire Code
  • LNG: liquified natural gas
  • MAOP: maximum allowable operating pressure
  • MRSC: Municipal Research and Services Center, Seattle
  • NFPA: National Fire Protection Association
  • NPMS: National Pipeline Mapping System
  • NTRB: National Transportation Research Board
  • PHMSA: Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration
  • PIPA: Pipelines and Informed Planning Alliance
  • PIR: potential impact radius
  • PSIG: pounds per square inch gauge
  • WUTC: Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission

Last Modified: December 21, 2017