PHMSA has issued a pre-publication copy of its much-anticipated Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) concerning hazardous liquid pipeline safety issues.  These proposed rules were prepared in response to certain Congressional mandates under the 2011 amendments to the Pipeline Safety Act as well as critiques from GAO and NTSB.   This appears to be one of PHMSA’s most ambitious rulemakings to date, and is likely to generate significant comment from industry.  The Agency issued the proposal after two recent Senate hearings on pipeline safety, and as Congress prepares to consider reauthorization of the Pipeline Safety Act.  Comments are due by January 8, 2016.

These proposed changes to the Part 195 regulations would significantly extend and expand the reach of certain PHMSA integrity management (IM) requirements (i.e., periodic assessments, repairs and leak detection).   In addition, the proposal would trigger new reporting requirements for certain unregulated pipelines, including all gathering lines.  Some of the more significant new proposed requirements include the following:

  • Extend certain IM assessment and repair requirements to all pipelines. PHMSA proposes to require pipeline segments not currently subject to the IM regulations to be assessed by in-line inspections (ILI) at least once every 10 years, regardless of the proximity to high consequence areas (HCAs).  Methods other than ILI on non-HCA pipelines would only be available upon notice (including a technical demonstration) that the pipeline is not capable of accommodating an ILI tool.  Implementing this requirement would give rise to the obligation to comply with other provisions in Part 195, such as having appropriate procedures for performing these assessments (Part 195.402), adhering to relevant recordkeeping provisions (Part 195.404), and taking appropriate remedial action (under the newly proposed Part 195.422).  Part 195.11 would also be amended to clarify that regulated onshore gathering lines would be subject to this requirement.
  • Modify and expand applicability of pipeline repair criteria.  PHMSA proposes to expand the list of conditions that require immediate remediation and to consolidate the timeframes for remediating all other conditions, and to apply these repair criteria to pipelines that are not subject to IM requirements, with an adjusted schedule for performing non-immediate repairs.
    • IM Repair Criteria. Current IM repair criteria would be modified to encompass new conditions to be treated as “immediate repair conditions,” including bottom-side dents with stress risers; a calculation of remaining strength that shows a predicted burst pressure less than 1.1 times maximum operating pressure; any indication of significant stress corrosion cracking; and any indication of selective seam weld corrosion.  Notably, the last two conditions were neither proposed in the 2010 Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that preceded this NPRM, nor addressed in the NPRM preamble.  The proposal would also eliminate current 60-day and 180-day repair categories, and would establish a new, consolidated 270-day repair category for ‘non-immediate’ repairs.
    • Expanded Applicability.PHMSA proposes to amend Part 195.422 (applicable to non-IM repairs) to specify that the immediate repair criteria in Part 195.452(h) are applicable to non-IM repairs and to establish an 18-month repair category for non-IM lines.  Part 195.422 would also be modified to include a general requirement for performing all other repairs within a reasonable time.
  • Accommodation of ILI tools.Under the proposal, any pipeline that could affect an HCA must be made capable of accommodating ILI tools within 20 years, unless the basic construction of the pipeline would not accommodate the passage of such devices.  Under current regulations, new pipelines and each line section of a pipeline where the line pipe, valve, fitting, or other line component is replaced must be designed and constructed to accommodate the passage of ILI devices, with certain exceptions.  49 C.F.R. Part 195.120.  The Pipeline Safety Act expressly authorizes PHMSA to require existing pipeline facilities whose basic construction would accommodate an ILI device to be modified to permit ILI inspections, however, and the Agency cites this statutory authority as the basis of its proposal to further facilitate the “gradual elimination” of pipelines that are not capable of accommodating ILI tools.  49 U.S.C. § 60102(f)(1)(B)
  • Expand the use of leak detection systems.  Under the proposal, all new hazardous liquid pipelines would be required to be designed to include leak detection systems and to evaluate the kind of system required to adequately protect the public, property and the environment.  Currently, IM regulations contain mandatory leak detection requirements for hazardous pipelines that could affect an HCA.  Operators of all new liquid pipelines would also be required to evaluate and modify, as necessary, the capability of their leak detection systems to protect the public, property, and the environment.
  • Extend reporting requirements to certain unregulated lines (i.e., gravity lines and all liquid gathering lines).  This would require operators of all liquid gravity and gathering lines, whether onshore, offshore, regulated or unregulated, to submit annual, safety-related condition, and incident reports.  As justification, the Agency cites a need for basic data to effectively analyze the safety performance and risks of these lines. 
  • Inspections of pipelines within 72 hours in areas affected by extreme weather, natural disasters, and other similar events.  A new proposed regulation at 195.414 would require operators to inspect their pipeline facilities potentially affected by an extreme weather event such as a hurricane or flood, an earthquake, a natural disaster, or other similar event within 72 hours after the cessation of the event, to ensure that no conditions exist that could adversely affect the pipeline.  Operators would have the flexibility as to the particular inspection method to be used, after considering the nature of the event and the physical characteristics, operating conditions, location, and prior history of the affected line.  If an adverse condition is found, an operator would be required to “take appropriate remedial action” which may include a number of actions—including reducing pressure or shutdown—listed in the proposed regulation.
  • Other Changes. Other Part 195 changes include:
    • Requiring that operators of a new pipeline to develop a written IM program before the pipeline begins operation (as opposed to the current requirement that IM programs be developed one year after the pipeline begins operation, 49 C.F.R. Part 195.452(b)(1));
    • Specifying certain pipeline attributes that must be included in the information analysis required under the IM rule and requiring that operators identify any spatial relationship among anomalous information, 49 C.F.R. Part 195.452(g);
    • Requiring that operators verify the identification of segments subject to IM requirements annually, 49 C.F.R. Part 195.452(j)(2);
    • Clarifying that IM requirements apply to portions of “pipelines” other than line pipe, such as pump stations and breakout tanks, 49 C.F.R. Part 195.452; and
    • Adding an explicit reference to “the seismicity of the area” as a threat to be evaluated under operators’ IM procedures, 49 C.F.R. Parts 195.452(e), 195.452.(g), 195.452(i). 

These rules, if finalized as proposed, represent a significant expansion of PHMSA integrity management regulatory requirements to applicable to all pipelines, including requiring periodic integrity assessments, certain repairs and leak detection.  Operators should consult with industry trade groups and consider submitting individual comments.