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.

In its proposal, PHMSA identified over thirty pipeline attributes for submission in geospatial format and proposed to extend reporting requirements to all newly abandoned pipelines, regulated breakout tanks, and offshore gas gathering lines.  Among other issues, this proposal raises potential industry concerns regarding:  (1) the burden required to collect and covert this information into geospatial format, (2) issues for operators where this information is simply not available, and (3) security concerns with the potential disclosure of sensitive security information to the public.  With this proposed expansion, PHMSA focuses its NPMS information collection activities on enforcement priorities and may effectively be codifying the traceable, verifiable and complete records standard without issuing any rulemaking.

When PHMSA extended the comment period, the Agency responded in part to some of these concerns.  Specifically, the Agency acknowledged that it would take time for operators to acquire, organize and geospatially enable the data outlined in its proposal.  Toward that end, PHMSA stated that it is considering a phased approach and specifically invited comment on a “realistic” timeline for compliance.  In addition, PHMSA noted that it is working with the Transportation Security Administration to appropriately identify the sensitivity of all new data elements and that if the Agency were to receive a FOIA request for this information that all applicable exemptions would be reviewed and assessed.  Notably, the Agency has not addressed how security issues will be addressed in the various state and localities where sensitive information is shared with emergency responders and other personnel.

This appears to be another example of the Agency avoiding rulemaking, through a request for comments on information collection activities certain aspects of which may exceed the Agency’s authority under the Pipeline Safety Act.  In light of this significant proposed expansion of information required to be submitted to the NPMS, we encourage operators to consider drafting individual comments and consult with industry trade groups regarding their concerns.