PHMSA recently proposed to significantly expand the information collected from operators through the National Pipeline Mapping System (NPMS).  In the Agency’s notice and request for comment, PHMSA proposes to collect extensive information regarding pipeline attributes and extends reporting requirements to newly abandoned pipelines, regulated breakout tanks, and offshore gas gathering lines.  The deadline for commenting is September 29, 2014.

By way of background, the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002, required transmission pipeline and LNG plant operators to submit geospatial data, attributes, metadata, and public contact information to the NPMS and provide annual updates to reflect changes in the data.  49 U.S.C. 60132 (submissions were voluntary prior to that time); PHMSA Advisory Bulletin, 68 Fed. Reg. 5338 (2003).  Currently, PHMSA requires that operators submit limited data to the NPMS regarding their pipeline attributes, including, among other information, operator identification number, owner name, system name, commodity, interstate/intrastate, pipeline status, and location.  This information is used to coordinate with emergency responders and prepare for pipeline releases as well as assist the Agency in providing regulatory oversight.  PHMSA’s recent notice proposes to greatly expand the information collected, however, and targets regulatory compliance issues such as abandonment, seam type, MOP/MAOP, gathering lines, historical pressure testing, etc.  The complete list of proposed changes are outlined in a draft NPMS Operator Standards Manual, including the following:

  • Increased positional accuracy:  5 feet for Class 3, 4, high consequence areas (HCAs), or “could-affect” HCAs and 50 feet for Class 1 or 2 locations (in contrast to the current 500 feet standard)
  • Additional pipeline attributes (19):  pipe diameter, MAOP/MOP, pipe grade, percent SMYS, type of leak detection, pipe coating/type of coating, pipe material, pipe join method, year of construction/installation, class location (gas transmission only), high consequence “could affect” areas, onshore/offshore, inline inspection, year of last ILI and Direct Assessment, year and pressure of original and last hydrostatic test, commodity detail, special permit, wall thickness, seam type, installation method if pipe crosses water body greater than 100 feet, Facility Response Plan number, and throughput (some of this information is currently collected in PHMSA annual reports in terms of mileage as opposed to the proposed pipeline segment level)
  • Newly abandoned pipelines (requirement previously limited to a subset of abandoned pipelines over navigable waters)
  • Offshore gas gathering lines
  • Additional data layers (4):  pump and compressor stations, mainline block valves, storage fields, refineries and gas process/treatment plants
  • Additional LNG plant attributes (5):  type of plant, capacity, impoundments, exclusion zones and year constructed
  • Breakout tanks (currently voluntary)

This proposal raises a host of potential concerns for the industry.  First, many pipeline operators do not currently collect all of this type of information in geographic information systems (GIS).  Second, some operators simply may not know some of this information based on the pipeline vintage or historical recordkeeping issues.  As a result, this proposal effectively forces implementation the “traceable, verifiable and complete” standard that NTSB and PHMSA asserted in 2011 and 2012, by requiring operators to provide such detailed information (not just be aware it the Agency expects that it be maintained by operators).  Access to NPMS has been restricted to federal, state and local government agencies since September 11, 2001, thus there are also security concerns associated with disclosure of this level of geospatial data to the general public.  Notably, the notice does not discuss whether or how the government will maintain confidentiality or security over this type of information.  It is also expected that PHMSA’s collection of this information will be used to target certain operators for prioritized inspection and enforcement.  Comments are due by September 29, 2014.