Gas pipeline regulatory framework

Since 1 August 2017, all pipelines are subject to some form of regulatory oversight. Only pipelines that do not provide third party access can be exempt from all regulatory requirements.

There are two frameworks: one framework for ‘scheme pipelines’ is set out in Parts 8 to 12 of the National Gas Rules (NGR); the second for ‘non-scheme’ pipelines in Part 23 of the NGR. Both reflect the negotiate-arbitrate regulatory approach to pipelines. That is, to provide a framework for parties to negotiate access to services provided by a pipeline.

Neither the scheme or non-scheme regulatory frameworks aim to:

  • control revenue or profits earned by pipeline operators
  • limit the services provided by a pipeline
  • restrict the ability of potential users and pipeline operators to negotiate a contract.

The overall regulatory arrangement is illustrated in the figure below.

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The regulatory classification and history of pipelines can be found at the AEMC’s gas scheme register.

Scheme pipelines

Scheme pipelines are those that satisfy the ‘coverage’ criteria in the National Gas Law (NGL). These criteria are focused on the question of whether access to the pipeline would improve competition in any other market. If this is found to be the case by the relevant minister then the pipeline is classified as a ‘covered’ pipeline.

Covered pipelines

Covered pipelines can be subject to one of two forms of regulation – full and light. The National Competition Council considers criteria regarding market power issues in deciding which form of regulation is most appropriate for a particular pipeline.

The regulator for covered pipelines is the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) for all states and territories with the exception of Western Australia. In Western Australia, the regulator is the Economic Regulatory Authority (ERA).

Light regulation pipelines

Under the National Gas Rules pipeline operators of pipelines in this category are required to either publish certain information relevant to the pipeline services on a website or submit a ‘limited access arrangement’ to the regulator for approval. In both cases, the information is made available to assist potential users of a pipeline negotiate a contract to use a pipeline service.

All services provided by a light regulation pipeline are subject to the negotiate-arbitrate framework. If parties cannot agree on access to pipeline services through negotiations, then they can seek to resolve the dispute with the dispute resolution body. In most states and territories the dispute resolution body is the AER. In Western Australia it is the WA Energy Disputes Arbitrator.

Currently there are five and a half light regulation pipelines:

  • the Marsden to Wilton segment of Moomba Sydney Pipeline (NSW)
  • Central West Pipeline (NSW)
  • Carpentaria Gas Pipeline (Queensland)
  • the Allgas and Envestra Queensland distribution pipelines
  • Kalgoorlie to Kambalda Pipeline (WA)

In general, pipelines are able to seek to change from one classification to another upon application. However, certain pipelines cannot change from full to light regulation: all Victorian pipelines, South Australian distribution pipeline, Dampier to Bunbury Natural Gas Pipeline and the mid-west and south-west gas distribution pipelines in WA.

Full regulation pipelines

Under the National Gas Rules pipeline operators of pipelines in this category are required to submit a ‘full access arrangement’ to the regulator for approval. An access arrangement is a document that sets out the pipeline services and the terms and conditions of those services. A proposed access arrangement is assessed by the regulator through a multi-stage public consultation process. The NGR set out various criteria for the regulator, including that the prices reflect the costs that would be incurred by an efficient and prudent pipeline operator.

The outcome of the regulatory decision making process is an approved full access arrangement that sets out key pipeline services (called reference services), the prices (reference tariffs) for those services and the non-price terms and conditions for those services. While a potential user may wish to contract for a specified reference service, it may also negotiate for another service from the pipeline operator.

Full access arrangements are periodically revised at pre-set terms, or at any time requested by service provider, and only expire if:

  • it was made voluntarily
  • the pipeline changes to light regulation
  • the pipeline becomes ‘uncovered’
  • it was established through a competitive tender process

All services provided by a full regulation pipeline are subject to the negotiate-arbitrate framework. If parties cannot agree on access to pipeline services through negotiation, then they can seek to resolve the dispute with the dispute resolution body – either the Australian Energy Regulator or the WA Energy Disputes Arbitrator as relevant.

Non-scheme pipelines

The non-scheme pipeline access regime commenced on 1 August 2017. Under Part 23 of the National Gas Rules pipeline operators are required to publish certain financial and non-financial information related to the available pipeline services. While the information is required to be verified and reflect the regulator’s financial reporting guideline, there is no assessment as to the appropriateness or efficiency of the information made by the regulator.

The purpose of publishing this information on a website is to support potential users in negotiating a contract to use a pipeline service. If parties cannot agree on access to pipeline services through negotiations, then they can seek to resolve the dispute with an arbitrator from a pool of arbitrators created by the regulator.

Exemptions to some of these Part 23 requirements can be sought by pipeline operators from the regulator. There are three categories under which pipeline operators may apply:

  • Category 1 exemption for pipelines that do not provide third party access. These pipelines may be exempt from all information reporting and the arbitration provisions.
  • Category 2 exemption for pipelines that do not provide third party access or are single shipper pipelines. These pipelines can be exempt from the information reporting provisions.
  • Category 3 exemption for pipelines that have a daily capacity of less than 10 terajoules. These pipelines can be exempt from certain information reporting provisions.

Bulletin Board pipelines

All key transmission pipelines, production and storage facilities must provide certain information to the Natural Gas Services Bulletin Board. This is independent of any economic regulatory arrangements that may apply.

The Bulletin Board was created in 2008 to provide a more level playing field for participating in the gas sector by requiring certain information be provided to a central repository for use by all market participants and the public.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) is responsible for the eastern states Bulletin Board and the WA Bulletin Board.