Pipeline Law

Pipeline Law

Welcome to the Underground

Lawyers with the Hunton & Williams LLP Pipeline Practice group have been providing legal support to America’s oil and gas pipeline industry for a quarter century. During that time, they have gained extensive experience on a wide variety of issues of concern to the industry, the regulatory agencies and the public. Hunton & Williams’ pipeline group also has extensive geographical reach in this practice area, with matters in almost all 50 states. Our goal is to help solve problems, not prolong them, and our experience helps to achieve timely resolution.

PHMSA Issues Expansive Advisory and Guidance Regarding IM Program Effectiveness

Posted in Administrative Guidance, Integrity Management, PHMSA, Policy

PHMSA issued an Advisory Bulletin to announce Guidance on operator requirements to measure integrity management program effectiveness under Part 192 and 195.  Issued as a supplement to a 2012 Advisory on the topic, the Advisory and associated Guidance respond to Agency inspections identifying weaknesses in this area and a NTSB recommendation following the San Bruno, California incident to develop and implement effectiveness standards for IM and other performance-based programs. The Guidance appears to impermissibly broaden the Agency’s requirements for IMP programs without pursuing formal notice and comment rulemaking.

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Pipeline Abandonment: Safety and Supply Concerns at the Heart of Recent Developments

Posted in Practice Pointers

Recent legislative and regulatory developments at the federal and state levels signal lawmakers’ increased attention to issues related to the abandonment of oil and gas pipelines.  The U.S. House of Representatives is currently considering a bill, proposed earlier this year in the wake of a release of crude oil in the streets of a Los Angeles suburb from an out-of-service pipeline. The bill would amend the federal Pipeline Safety Act to require inspections of pipelines to confirm their status each time they are listed as abandoned or transferred as part of a sale.  Just after this bill was introduced in the House, the State of Louisiana passed a law requiring approval from the State Public Service Commission for the abandonment of portions of interstate natural gas pipelines entirely within the State, allowing the Commission to deny such approval if abandonment would cause gas supply inadequacies.  Other states, such as North Dakota, have also recently passed legislation concerning proper procedures for pipeline abandonment.  These developments reflect the range of issues associated with pipeline abandonment, from public safety to energy supply reliability.

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Proposed Expansion of NPMS Information Comment Period Extended

Posted in PHMSA, Public Awareness/ Community Relations, Recordkeeping, Reporting Obligations

PHMSA extended the comment period for its recent proposed expansion of information that operators must submit to the National Pipeline Mapping System (NPMS).  In response to an industry request for additional time, the Agency extended the comment period (which originally expired on September 29th) to December 1, 2014.

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The Legal Effect of Advisories and Guidance

Posted in Practice Pointers

Over the past several years PHMSA has issued numerous Advisories and Guidance notices.  In fact, the Agency has issued nine times more informal guidance documents than formal rulemakings on pipeline safety issues since January 2012 (6 Notices or Advanced Notices of Proposed Rulemakings, compared to 54 interpretative letters, advisories or guidance).  The Pipeline Safety Act comes up for reauthorization next year, and as of this post the Agency has still not proposed rules on four issues that Congress expressly directed PHMSA to address in 2012 (excluding an additional six issues that Congress gave PHMSA the discretion to issue regulations “if appropriate” or “as necessary”).  To date, PHMSA has only issued one final rule as a result of the 2011 Pipeline Safety Act Reauthorization (which became effective January 2012).

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GAO Recommends that DOT Address Risks from Unregulated Gathering Pipelines

Posted in Administrative Rulemaking, Incident Response, PHMSA, Pipeline Safety Act

In response to a request from Congress to study the impact of shale oil and gas development on transportation infrastructure and safety, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) recently published a report commenting on these developments and focusing on DOT’s response to address safety risks posed by rail and pipeline transportation.  The report concludes that while DOT is addressing increased risks posed by rail, the Agency should proceed with a rulemaking to address the risks posed by new gathering pipelines in shale development areas.

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PHMSA Releases Advisory and Guidance for Pipeline Flow Reversals, Product Changes and Conversion to Service

Posted in Administrative Guidance, Integrity Management, Operation & Maintenance, PHMSA

PHMSA has issued an Advisory Bulletin to alert hazardous liquid and gas transmission pipeline operators of the impacts associated with flow reversals, product changes, and conversions to service.  The Advisory, issued in conjunction with newly-published Agency Guidance on these issues, recommends that operators consult existing conversion of service requirements for flow reversals and product changes and undertake additional actions in order to ensure integrity and safety.

While acknowledging in the associated Guidance that the Agency’s recommended practices are not required, PHMSA nevertheless makes a number of suggestions, including that operators consider pressure testing the entire pipeline prior to flow reversals on gas and liquid pipelines and prior to significant product changes on liquid lines.  PHMSA also recommends that operators consider taking the following steps prior to reversing flow, product changes, and conversion of service:

  • Performance of ILI and hydrostatic pressure with a spike test, “especially if historical records have indications of previous in-service or hydrostatic pressure test failures, selective seam corrosion, stress corrosion cracking, other cracking threats, or other systemic concerns;”
  • Validation of material and strength test records, and preparation of plan to obtain any missing material documentation (and if mechanical and/or chemical properties are missing, require destructive tests to confirm material properties of the pipeline);
  • Review of the adequacy of sectionalizing valves and leak detection capability;
  • Enhancement of communications with stakeholders concerning changes; and
  • Submittal of a comprehensive written plan (in reliance on the Guidance) to the appropriate PHMSA regional office for review.

PHMSA identifies certain circumstances in which the Agency believes that it may not be advisable to perform flow reversals, product changes or conversions to service, however, including:  grandfathered pipelines; low-frequency ERW pipe, lap welded, unknown seam types and pipe with seam factors less than 1.0; pipelines with a history of failure and leaks related to stress corrosion cracking,  corrosion, or manufacturing defects; pipelines operating above Part 192 design factors; or, where the change involves a product change from unrefined products to highly volatile liquids.

The actions noted above are indeed advisory, but the Agency also notes several existing regulatory requirements that may be triggered by flow reversals, product changes and conversion to service projects, including:  (1) pre-construction notification provisions of 49 C.F.R. Parts 192 and 195; (2) integrity management notifications for changes on gas systems that “substantially affect” IMP implementation, among other things; and (3) other associated O&M or IMP regulations.  As a result of these requirements, the Advisory cautions that operators should be prepared to demonstrate how they have addressed impacts to “O&M, emergency plans, control room management, operator qualification training, emergency responder training, public awareness, spill response, maps and records, and IMP programs and plans.”

Despite the fact that the recommendations are not required by law, as acknowledged by the Agency, the Advisory suggests that operators should develop and document technical justifications for their chosen course of action, particularly if they depart from the Guidance.  As operators consider making system changes to accommodate shifts in the market and demand for transportation services, the Agency will likely expect to see that they have addressed these recommendations.

The Pipeline Safety Management Standard (Draft API RP 1173): What It Means to Operators

Posted in Practice Pointers

In 2012, following a 2010 oil pipeline accident in Marshall, Michigan, NTSB recommended that API develop a pipeline Safety Management Standard (SMS).  SMSs are used in various sectors (aviation, maritime, labor, food management, etc.), and typically follow ISO frameworks.  The general intent behind a SMS is to ‘provide a systematic way to identify hazards and control risks while maintaining assurance that these risk controls are effective,’ and they are meant to reflect a ‘businesslike approach to safety.’

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PHMSA Advisory Regarding Construction Notification

Posted in Administrative Guidance, Construction & Design, PHMSA, Reporting Obligations

As further indication of the Agency’s increased focus on pipeline construction activity, PHMSA will publish an Advisory Bulletin on September 12, 2014 intending to clarify pre-construction notification requirements.  Under PHMSA regulations, operators are required to notify PHMSA through the National Registry of Pipeline and LNG Operators not later than 60 days before certain events, including construction of (1) a facility other than a section of line pipe (including replacement, modification, upgrades, etc.) that costs $10 million or more; (2) 10 or more miles of a new pipeline; or (3) any new LNG plant, LNG facility or hazardous liquid pipeline facility.  49 C.F.R. Parts 191.22(c)(1); 195.64(c)(1). 

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Increased LNG Export Proposals Challenge Agency Review

Posted in Construction & Design, Incident Response, PHMSA, Pipeline Safety Act

Increased natural gas production from shale formations in the U.S. has led to a notable increase in applications for regulatory approvals of liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports and construction of LNG export facilities.  Three LNG export terminals have been approved since 2012, and another 14 terminals are currently proposed.  This surge in interest in LNG exports may burden the resources and technical expertise of the two federal agencies that oversee LNG facility siting, design, construction, and operation, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) within the Department of Transportation (DOT).

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PHMSA Broadly Interprets Its Construction Oversight Authority

Posted in Construction & Design, PHMSA, Pipeline Safety Act

The authority of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to establish minimum safety standards for the design, installation, and construction of pipeline facilities is clearly set forth in the Pipeline Safety Act (49 U.S.C. § 601 et seq.) (PSA or the Act), as is its authority to conduct design review of certain new facilities and new and novel technology by virtue of the 2012 amendments.  DOT’s authority to inspect and impose these standards during construction is not so clearly articulated, however.   Although DOT has established and enforced standards for pipeline construction since it began regulating the safety of pipelines in the late 1960s, it has published only limited guidance for the regulated community clarifying how this authority will be exercised.  It has also rarely asserted its authority to conduct construction inspections, until construction was complete.

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