PHMSA issued an Advisory Bulletin to operators of both oil and gas pipelines regarding the potential damage to pipeline facilities caused by severe flooding. 78 Fed. Reg. 41991 (July 12, 2013). The Agency has issued several prior Advisory Bulletins on this subject, each of which followed an event that involved severe flooding that affected pipelines. The June 12th Advisory Bulletin references several 2011 pipeline incidents that occurred due to flooding, and stresses the potential impacts of flooding, including additional stresses, loss of support, accumulation of debris, and damage to safety valves, regulators, relief sets and other pipeline facilities that may be covered by water during flooding. Notably, in support of a requirement to respond to flooding impacts, the Agency cites the general duty clauses of 49 C.F.R. Part 195.401(b) for liquid and Part 192.613(a) for gas, that require an operator who discovers a condition that could adversely affect the safe operation of a pipeline to correct that condition within a reasonable time. The Agency also cites requirements to survey pipeline right of way and the integrity management regulations.
The Advisory Bulletin includes nine (9) actions that operators should consider taking to ensure the integrity of pipelines experiencing flood conditions: (1) evaluating the accessibility of pipeline facilities that may be in jeopardy; (2) extending regulator vents and relief stacks above the level of anticipated flooding; (3) coordination with emergency and spill responders on pipeline location and condition and provide maps; (4) coordination with other pipeline operators in the flood area and establish emergency and spill responders on pipeline location and condition and provide maps; (5) coordination with other pipeline operators in the flood area and establishing emergency response centers to act as a liaison for pipeline problems and solutions; (6) deploying personnel so that they will be in position to take emergency actions, determine if facilities that are normally above ground have become submerged and are in danger of being struck by vessels or debris; (7) performing frequent patrols, including overflights; (8) to evaluating right of way conditions at water crossings during flooding and after waters subside; and (9) performing depth of cover surveys. Also related to this Bulletin is the Report submitted to Congress in December 2012, regarding evaluation of pipeline regulations for water crossings.