PHMSA Announces Proposed Rule Addressing Natural Gas Pipeline Safety

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would update critical safety requirements for natural gas transmission pipelines.  Sutherland attorneys Paul Forshay, Michael Stosser, and Allison Speaker authored the following Legal Alert describing the rule.  Comments on the rule are due by June 7, 2016

PHMSA has issued a proposal to implement regulations that would add new safety measures designed to raise existing safety standards applicable to pipelines currently regulated by PHMSA. The Administration also proposes to make those safety regulations applicable to pipelines that previously had been exempt, because they had been placed in service before 1970 or because they were gathering systems. The 549-page Pipeline Safety: Safety of Gas Transmission and Gathering Pipelines(Proposed Rule) proposes new rules aimed at strengthening the way gas pipeline systems are operated, inspected and maintained.

PHMSA’s Rule follows up on the agency’s earlier Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANOPR), which was issued on October 18, 2010. In its ANOPR, PHMSA sought public input on proposed revisions to its pipeline safety regulations, applicable to gas transmission and gas gathering pipelines. The Proposed Rule now issues against a backdrop of continuing significant Congressional action regarding pipeline safety, and represents the latest step in PHMSA’s efforts to respond to pipeline incidents like the San Bruno, California pipeline explosion.

While this proposed rule follows from the ANOPR, PHMSA has determined that, because of the complexity and the nature of some topics raised by the ANOPR, certain topics will be addressed in separate rulemakings. These topics include strengthening requirements on the selection and use of assessment methods for pipelines requiring assessments, establishing requirements applicable to underground gas storage, and imposing requirements related to quality management systems.

However, in this Proposed Rule, PHMSA is proposing changes to the integrity management (IM) requirements, and also proposing changes to address topics related to non-IM requirements. The topics addressed by this Proposed Rule include, but are not limited to:

  • Modifying repair criteria for pipelines in densely-populated areas, designated as High Consequence Areas (HCA), and establishing repair criteria for pipelines not in HCAs;
  • Strengthening requirements for applying information obtained through the IM programs;
  • Strengthening requirements on the selection and use of assessment methods for risk, integrity and other factors;
  • Addressing corrosion control, by adding requirements for monitoring gas quality and mitigating internal corrosion, and adding requirements for external corrosion management programs;
  • Adding requirements that will allow for greater control over the risks associated with changes to a pipeline’s physical configuration or operational practices;
  • Creating a new definition of Moderate Consequence Areas (MCA), which would define a sub-set of non-HCA pipeline locations;
  • Improving requirements for collecting, validating and integrating pipeline data;
  • Proposing new requirements for certain onshore, steel, gas transmission pipelines to record the physical and operational characteristics of pipelines for which adequate records are not available; and
  • Narrowing the exemption and modifying the regulation of gas gathering lines.

The Proposed Rule also proposes requirements for additional topics that have arisen since the ANOPR was published. These topics include:

  • Establishing a timeline for inspection of pipelines affected by natural disasters and extreme weather;
  • Revising regulations to allow for an extension of the current seven-year reassessment interval;
  • Adding a requirement to report each each exceedance of the maximum allowable pressure that exceeds the margin allowed;
  • Requiring a pipeline facility operator to consider the seismicity of an area;
  • Adding explicit requirements for safety features on pig launchers and pig receivers; and
  • Incorporating by reference consensus standards for assessing the physical condition of in service pipelines.

The Proposed Rule was published in the Federal Register today and comments are due by June 7, 2016.

Back to top