The Agency announced a public workshop to discuss the voluntary Pipeline Safety Management Systems (SMS) national consensus standard on April 22, 2015 in Houston, Texas.  This standard, Recommended Practice (RP) 1173, has been in development by the American Petroleum Institute (API) for some time now as a result of the NTSB’s Investigation of the Marshall, Michigan incident.  The NTSB found that Enbridge’s centralized safety management system was deficient and made a recommendation to API to develop a safety management standard specific to pipelines.  RP 1173 is still under development, but is expected to be published this year.

The notice for the upcoming PHMSA workshop indicates that the meeting will include representatives from all major pipeline sectors, state and Federal regulators, and public safety advocates.  In particular, the workshop will focus on certain elements of the standard, including: (1) leadership and management commitment, (2) risk management, (3) emergency preparedness and response, (4) competence awareness and training, (5) management review and continuous commitment, and (6) the critical role of safety leadership.

PHMSA has not indicated whether it will incorporate the recommended practice by reference under its regulations.  Operators would be wise, however, to consider the use and adoption of a SMS as it arguably sets an industry standard or best practice and PHMSA may impose SMS requirements indirectly through enforcement actions.  See prior pipelinelaw practice pointer.