Land Use Planning and Pipelines

For the siting of nearly all new pipelines, a pipeline company decides on a general route they prefer for their pipeline, and possibly some alternative routes. Once they feel fairly confident with the feasibility of their chosen route, the more formal process with various government agencies begins. That process is not consistent for various types of pipelines, but varies greatly based on the type of pipeline and where it is to run. Interstate natural gas pipeline companies must apply to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for construction and route approval.

There is no comprehensive federal permitting process for the routing of hazardous liquid pipelines or of intrastate natural gas pipelines. Assuming the pipeline is wholly within the U.S., the responsibility for approval of the pipeline route falls on the individual states. Since California does not have a statute at the time of this writing that addresses pipeline routing and siting, the responsibility falls to the regular land use authority of local governments along the pipeline route, some of which exercise this authority, and others do not. 

Pipelines and Informed Planning Alliance

Local governments can also coordinate and regulate new development near existing pipelines with their land use authority. Many pipelines existed prior to development, and housing density has increased in many areas near pipelines that once were predominantly agricultural. Local governments can enact regulations governing the type of buildings and construction that can occur near existing pipelines, requiring consultation with the pipeline operator, establishing setbacks or enacting a variety of other land use permit requirements. In 2010, PHMSA published the final report of the Pipelines and Informed Planning Alliance (PIPA), a three-year effort to provide information and recommendations on the types of tools local governments can use to regulate new development near existing pipelines. Forty-three recommended practices are contained in the report, and twenty-nine of them speak specifically to local governments about things they can do to encourage safety near transmission pipelines. Recommendations stress: the need to have a relationship with local pipeline operators that includes open communication, incorporating the existence of pipelines into planning processes and infrastructure projects, and the importance of safe excavation practices. One example of a specific recommendation is the use of consultation areas or zones that require early consultation among stakeholders when any development is proposed within a specified distance from a transmission pipeline. All recommendations and associated documents can be found through the PIPA link at:

Right-of-way Franchise and Easement Agreements

Easements and franchise agreements specify information about the access the pipeline operator has to land that is owned by private parties or government entities. They are typically negotiated agreements in exchange for payment, and lay out allowed and disallowed activities for the pipeline operator and the landowner within the area covered by the agreement. The area covered may be narrow or wide, depending on the pipeline and the context at the time the agreement was signed. 

When a pipeline goes through county-owned public property or public rights-of-way, Contra Costa County Public Works Department has authority over the granting of franchise or easement agreements. Agreements between the county and pipeline operator must proceed in accordance with the Pipeline Franchise Ordinance. Contra Costa County Code, Title 10, Chapter 1004-2. The pipeline franchise ordinance covers the unincorporated portions of the county, and individual cities negotiate easements and franchise agreements according to their own ordinances or policies. 

Details about the San Jose Pipeline and Iron Horse Trail Corridor

AIA has been particularly interested in the Kinder Morgan SFPP pipeline, especially the portion of that pipeline that runs for nearly 20 miles along the Iron Horse Corridor in central Contra Costa County; this segment of the SFPP system is also called the “San Jose line” or LS16 (line segment 16). This line carries refined oil products and is the focus of this report because of its location along the Iron Horse Corridor from Concord south through Alamo to the Contra Costa – Alameda county line and beyond to San Jose. LS16 is ten inches in diameter and classified as an intrastate pipeline, meaning it is regulated by the Office of the State Fire Marshal under a certification from PHMSA, and it operates under a rate structure approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). The San Jose line is subject to federal regulations with regard to integrity management (discussed elsewhere in this report) as a release from the line could affect a high consequence area.

The San Jose line delivers petroleum products from a pump station in Concord to the Kinder Morgan San Jose terminal – a total of 51.4 miles – and was installed in the mid-1960s, with portions of the pipe replaced through the decades as a result of maintenance activities. The maximum allowable operating pressure on the San Jose line is 1310 pounds per square inch gauge (psig), and the typical operating pressure at the originating Concord station is 1165 psig (operating pressure varies by elevation and distance from pump stations). The line throughput is generally about 4483 barrels per hour.

There are five valves along the length of this line segment that serve to further isolate sections of the pipeline in the event of a release, located on average every 10 miles. These valves include three manual gate valves and two motor operated remote control valves.

The original easement for this pipeline was between SFPP and the South Pacific Railroad, and existed at the time the county acquired the right-of-way from the Railroad in the 1980s.

There are examples from around the country where local governments through these franchise agreements have been able to obtain safety improvements and greater liability insurance and indemnification than is required by state or federal rules. Find examples of these franchise agreements at:

Additional information about the county’s easement and the Iron Horse Trail corridor can be found in the 2015 Report

Contra Costa County Land Use and Zoning Provisions

Land use and zoning authority in the unincorporated portions of the county lies within Contra Costa County Department of Conservation and Development (DCD) jurisdiction. The county does not address pipelines in the General Plan goals or policies. Apart from limited involvement with certain high-hazard proposals (as rated by Hazardous Materials Program staff), the county does not review pipelines under their land use authority. It has a specific exemption for pipelines and other utilities stating:

The use of land for rights-of-way for the construction, maintenance and repair of public utilities and publicly owned utilities and for privately owned pipelines for the transportation of oil, gas, water, and other substances transportable by pipelines, is not regulated or restricted by Divisions 82 and 84. Accessory and appurtenant structures forming a part of public utilities, publicly owned utilities and pipelines are not regulated or restricted by Divisions 82 and 84, except for setback regulations. (Contra Costa County Zoning Code § 82-2.010)

There are examples in California of other counties that do not exempt privately owned transmission pipelines from land use regulations. Using land use and zoning authority to require permits for hazardous liquid pipeline construction, replacement, modification, or abandonment may allow a local government to conduct California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review if warranted, and negotiate conditions and mitigation requirements with certain permits.

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