PHMSA has released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM or Notice) to substantially revise that Agency’s rules (at 49 CFR Part 192) for construction, operation and maintenance of natural gas pipeline systems. The Notice was made available to the public on March 17, 2016 (accompanied by a press release dated March 15, 2016). Public comments on the NPRM will be accepted for 60 days following publication of the Notice in Federal Register (the Notice has not been published yet).
Congress directed PHMSA to consider numerous new rules for natural gas pipelines in the 2011 reauthorization of the Pipeline Safety Act. That directive was made largely in response to several serious gas pipeline incidents in 2010 and 2011, including the San Bruno, California fatality incident. In addition, in 2011 the NTSB issued various recommendations to PHMSA as a result of its investigation of the San Bruno incident, including elimination of the “grandfather” clause and the requirement of a pressure test and spike test for all pre-1970 transmission lines, amending the integrity management rules so that pipelines with manufacturing and construction defects be subjected to a post-construction pressure test of 1.25 MAOP, and require that all transmission lines be configured to accommodate ILI, among others. The Agency has been criticized for taking nearly five years to fulfill its Congressional obligation and to respond to the NTSB recommendations, but both industry and citizen groups welcome the opportunity to finally be able to evaluate and comment on changes being proposed (as opposed to grappling with vague and uncertain advisory guidance).
Some issues anticipated to be addressed in the gas NPRM have been excluded (e.g., proposed elimination of class locations) or postponed for subsequent rulemakings (e.g., whether to mandate automatic shutoff valves (ASVs) and whether to regulate underground natural gas storage). Other proposals within the Notice are almost anti-climactic, such as phase out of the “grandfather clause” authorizing continued use without internal testing of pipelines constructed prior to 1970 largely because the majority of industry has already been making operational changes in anticipation of this change. In addition, the Notice includes proposals for inspection of pipelines within 72 hours following a weather event (a similar proposal was floated for liquid pipelines) and codifying of the Agency’s prior advisory regarding reporting of MAOP exceedances.
Some of the more significant proposals within the Notice include changes to the integrity management program, such as proposed revisions to: repair criteria for HCA pipeline segments to address crack defects; risk assessment and models; new proposed integrity assessment methods, selection and use of direct assessment methods; additional requirements to address corrosion threats; hydrostatic “spike” test requirements for crack or crack-like defects; and treatment of longitudinal seam weld pipe (would be considered stable threat only if pressure tested to 1.25 MAOP). The NPRM also proposes numerous non-integrity management requirements, including: expanding application of several IM program elements (assessment, periodic reassessment and repair criteria) to “moderate consequence areas” (pipelines near 5 or more buildings or right of way for interstate freeway, etc.) and class 3 and 4 locations; expanding the scope of regulated gathering lines; significantly increasing corrosion control requirements; and requiring material documentation and MAOP verification and testing requirements to class 3 and 4 locations and HCAs. In addition, the proposed rule would also codify the “traceable, verifiable and complete” standard that PHMSA issued in its post-San Bruno records advisory and require that all pipelines maintain a management of change process.
In short, this is an aggressive proposal which industry should carefully consider, and prepare and submit thoughtful comment. Hunton & Williams will continue to monitor and will post updates as appropriate.