PHMSA released a pre-publication copy of its final rule expanding requirements for excess flow valves in natural gas distribution service pipelines. Excess flow valves automatically close and stop the flow of gas when there is a significant increase in gas flow (e.g., due to a damaged pipeline), thereby decreasing the risk of subsequent fire and rupture. These devices are currently required in new and replaced service pipelines that supply single-family residences. The recent rule, which will be effective six months after publication in the Federal Register, expands existing valve requirements to require: (1) installation of excess flow valves in new or replaced service lines to certain multi-family facilities, small commercial facilities, and branch service lines serving single family residences; (2) installation of manually operated curb valves or excess flow valves in new or replaced large capacity service lines; and (3) that operators notify customers of their ability to request installation of excess flow valves on existing service lines to serve multi-family and commercial customers and that operators perform installations as requested.
The original proposed rulemaking was largely met with broad industry support, and in the final rule, PHMSA implemented several clarifying revisions in response to recommendations from the technical Gas Pipeline Advisory Committee, including with regard to accessibility and maintenance requirements for curb valves and documentation of excess flow valve customer notifications. Once the rule is effective, excess flow valves will be required in new or replaced service lines for multi-residential dwellings (e.g. apartment buildings) and commercial buildings consuming gas volumes less than 1,000 standard cubic feet per hour and new or replaced branched service lines serving single-family residences. Existing regulatory exceptions to the requirement to install excess flow valves remain (e.g., service line operating below 10 psig, where gas contaminants may interference with valve operation, where a valve could interfere with operation or maintenance, or where a valve meeting the requisite performance standards is not commercially available). 49 C.F.R. Part 192.383(b).
In addition, operators of new or replaced gas service lines with meter capacities exceeding 1,000 standard cubic feet per hour will be required to install curb valves (manually operated shutoff valves located near the service main) or excess flow valves to protect against uncontrolled gas releases from larger commercial and industrial users. With respect to existing service lines, operators must notify all existing multi-family and small commercial customers of their right to request installation of excess flow valves. Where a customer requests installation of an excess flow valve, an operator must install it at a mutually agreeable date. The operator’s rate-setter will determine how and to whom the costs of the requested excess flow valves are distributed.
Going back to the 1970s, the NTSB has issued various recommendations to PHMSA and the regulated industry regarding the installation of excess flow valves on certain service lines. It was not until more recent improvements in technology that excess flow valves have become more technologically feasible and cost effective, however. In 2006, Congress mandated the use of excess flow valves on service lines serving single-family residences and PHMSA issued regulations three years later in 2009 to implement that mandate. In 2011, Congress issued a second mandate regarding excess flow valves to which this rulemaking responds (albeit over 2.5 years after the statutory deadline). In issuing this rule, PHMSA is also closing out one of its oldest open NTSB recommendations that arose from investigation of a 1998 incident in South Riding, Virginia.
By the end of 2014, an estimated 9 million excess flow valves were in service and over 800,000 new valves were being installed every year, including some installed voluntarily by utilities on residential and commercial service lines. PHMSA estimates that this rulemaking will impact 4,448 distribution operators and an average of 222,114 service lines per year. The final rule will be effective six months after publication in the Federal Register, which is estimated in the next 7 to 10 days.