By Mike Wereschagin

Size matters.

At least, it should when it comes to regulating more than 230,000 miles of pipelines that gather natural gas in drilling fields across the country, the former head of the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said.

Known as gathering lines, the lines largely transport natural gas to processing facilities. And, as a Tribune-Review investigation in late December revealed, they are almost entirely unregulated by federal or state governments.

That wasn’t a cause for much concern when the lines gathered natural gas from old, low-pressure wells. But in the era of hydraulic fracturing, when gas is extracted under enormous pressure, these unregulated pipes can be larger and operate at higher pressures than the interstate transmission lines that feed cities.

“At some point, all lines become transmission lines,” said Brigham McCown, who was the first head of the federal pipeline agency when it was established in 2004. “I would consider looking at the feasibility of putting a maximum size and pressure on a gathering line,” rather than regulating them based on how many people live near them.

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