The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB or the Board) is initiating a new safety study regarding gas pipeline integrity management. The NTSB has authority to investigate pipeline accidents that involve a fatality, substantial property damage or “significant injury to the environment.” 49 U.S.C. Section 1131(a)(1)(D). The Board also has authority to initiate “safety studies” of pipelines (49 USC Section 1116(b), but it has only done that twice in the past in regard to pipelines. See SCADA in Liquid Pipelines, NTSB/SS-05/02 (Nov. 29, 2005); Special Study of Effects of Delay in Shutting Down Failed Pipeline Systems and Methods of Providing Rapid Shutdown, NTSB-PSS-71-1 (Dec. 30, 1970).
There is no legal requirement that an operator participate in a safety study, but they often do, in order have some input on issues that may become part of a PHMSA rulemaking. Unlike industry, the Secretary of Transportation is required to respond to any recommendations from NTSB that result from a safety study. The last safety study NTSB did on pipelines was in 2005, concerning SCADA, and that report made five recommendations to PHMSA. The NTSB has of late been citing that study as a success story, claiming that it directly resulted in PHMSA’s promulgation of the Control Room Management regulations. NTSB Most Wanted List: Enhance Pipeline Safety, (2014) (noting that the Board’s 2005 SCADA Safety Study prompted a PHMSA final rule on Control Room Management).
The Board has already contacted a number of natural gas pipeline operators seeking participation in this new safety study, which is focused on integrity management programs, including data integration tools, and the possible reclassification of high consequence areas (HCAs). In its most recent (2005) study on SCADA, the Board contacted 96 pipeline operators: 84 of those contacted agreed to participate; 12 in onsite interviews and the remainder through confidential questionnaires. It is expected that this safety study will inform PHMSA’s forthcoming integrity management rulemakings, including a proposed expansion of the HCA definition to include more trunk or transmission line under the IMP regulations. While PHMSA may issue proposed integrity management rulemakings by the end of this year, an NTSB safety study could take longer to complete.