In a recent Final Rule, PHMSA delayed indefinitely the effective date of its new amendment to 49 C.F.R. Part 192.305 concerning construction inspections, and agreed to consider an exception to the new requirement in Part 192.153(e) that ASME pressure vessels be pressure tested at 1.5 times MAOP.   These actions were in response to several Petitions for Reconsideration concerning PHMSA’s March 11, 2015 Final Rule filed by groups representing natural gas distribution companies, interstate natural gas pipeline operators, pipeline safety representatives, and natural gas utilities.  Although not unprecedented, PHMSA infrequently revises or delays indefinitely final regulations after the fact.

Several petitioners requested reconsideration of the amendment to Part 192.305 specifying that a pipeline operator must not use operator personnel to perform a required inspection if the operator personnel also performed the construction task requiring inspection.  Among the petitioners, the American Public Gas Association (APGA) argued that that the new requirement would impose significant costs by requiring utilities with small crews to hire third parties to perform inspections.  The American Gas Association (AGA) requested that PHMSA extend the compliance date for this new requirement so that operators have sufficient time to make necessary procedural and training modifications.  The National Association of Pipeline Safety Representatives (NAPSR) petitioned for reconsideration of the amendment because it would specifically allow contract personnel to inspect the work of their own crews so long as the inspector did not directly perform the task being inspected.  NAPSR also objected to the new inspection requirement on the basis of its applicability to operator construction personnel (who, in NAPSR’s view, have less of an incentive to accept poor-quality work) and the fact that, as promulgated, it mistakenly reduced the scope of required inspections to ensuring compliance only with Subpart G, rather than with all of Part 192.  In response to these concerns, PHMSA has decided to delay the effective date of the March 2015 amendment to Part 192.305 indefinitely, while the Agency undertakes further evaluation.

The Interstate Natural Gas Association (INGAA) and AGA also petitioned PHMSA for reconsideration of the addition of Part 192.153(e), which would require ASME pressure vessels to be tested to at least 1.5 times MAOP, as opposed to the current ASME requirement of 1.3 times Maximum Allowable Working Pressure (MAWP). While PHMSA disagreed with the petitioners’ contention that the March 2015 Final Rule was a departure from industry and Agency understanding regarding the requirement to pressure test at 1.5 times MAOP, it agreed to consider INGAA’s request to create an exception for ASME pressure vessels put into operation between July 14, 2004 and October 1, 2015.

With the exception of the Part 192.305 amendment concerning construction inspections that has been delayed indefinitely, all other provisions of the March 2015 Final Rule become effective on October 1, 2015.