A bipartisan group of Senators who serve on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation introduced a Pipeline Safety Act reauthorization bill in November, the Securing America’s Future Energy: Protecting Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety (SAFE PIPES) Act, Senate Bill 2276. That bill was approved by the Committee on December 9, 2015 with five amendments. Key provisions of the bill as amended include:  (1) regulation of underground natural gas storage facilities; (2) temporary allowances for certified states who are not interstate agents to participate in inspection and oversight of interstate pipelines; (3) PHMSA/State post-inspection briefings, issuance of a final report or enforcement within 30 days of inspection, and (4) regulation of “small scale liquefied natural gas facilities.” The bill would reauthorize the Pipeline Safety Act, and PHMSA, through 2019 and significantly increase authorized funds for pipeline safety programs and grants.

In addition, the bill would require PHMSA to consult with FERC during its pre-filing procedures and permitting process for new natural gas pipeline construction (which the Agency already does voluntarily). Further, it would direct PHMSA to prioritize statutory rulemaking requirements over other rulemaking required after enactment (e.g., mandates leftover from the 2011 reauthorization such as gas and liquid integrity management rulemakings and whether to expand IMP, automatic and remote controlled valves, leak detection, accident notification, among others) and submit reports on the Agency’s progress. PHMSA would also report to Congress on metrics for natural gas leaks from distribution pipelines. The bill would require that pipeline oil spill response plans consider threats of discharge to navigable waters that may be covered in whole or in part by ice and provide for disclosure of unredacted plans to certain congressional committees.

The bill would require GAO audits of the following: feasibility of requiring odorization of all combustible gas in transportation; State policies regarding natural gas leaks; implementation of PHMSA final integrity management rules and those programs generally; and the Transportation Security Administration’s pipeline security program and other surface transportation programs. Other provisions target improved collaboration and information sharing with regard to: PHMSA and State regulatory inspections and oversight (i.e., consider developing a national integrated pipeline safety regulatory inspection database); pipeline integrity risk analysis, including ILI technology and data (i.e., consider developing a voluntary no-fault information sharing system); damage prevention through advances in pipeline mapping technology; and research and development (between PHMSA, industry, and public sector stakeholders).

The bill will now go before the full Senate for a voice vote, which Committee Chairman John Thune anticipates will happen some time next year.