A new Advisory on deactivation of threats for gas transmission lines was issued by PHMSA on March 15, 2017 (to be published in the March 16, 2017 Federal Register).  Amidst uncertainty about the fate of various proposed and final rules issued by PHMSA and other federal agencies under the new Administration due to the Regulatory Freeze Executive Memorandum of January 20, 2017 and other executive orders, PHMSA’s issuance of this clarifying guidance regarding minimum criteria for deactivation of integrity threats is notable.

The new Advisory itself is a short one paragraph summary on threat deactivation, but it is accompanied by nine pages of background explanation on applicability.  The formal Advisory states simply that the nine integrity management threats that must be considered during Integrity Management Program (IMP) reviews may be considered active or inactive, but “are never eliminated.”  These threats must be analyzed and considered under 49 C.F.R. Part 192.911(c) (threat identification); Part 192.917 (prioritizing segments for assessment); Part 192.935 (preventive and mitigative measures); Part 192.937 (continual evaluation) and portions of industry standard ASME B31.8S-2004 incorporated therein, such as Appendix A.  The Advisory goes on to state that a threat must be considered active if any data required by ASME B31.8S Appendix A is missing or incomplete.  It also notes that all documents relating to threat identification must be maintained, including those supporting a determination that a threat is inactive, pursuant to Part 192.947(d).  Where a threat is properly determined to be inactive, operators are not required to assess a threat for the current assessment cycle.  As new information becomes available or conditions warrant during continual evaluations (under 192.937), operators must examine each applicable threat to determine whether it is active or inactive.

The background preface to this new Advisory provides more useful information, by reviewing each of the nine threats that must be considered and noting which threats can be considered “inactive” in certain situations.  Noting that “threats are not static, but vary over time,” the background to the Advisory states that 4 of the 9 threats may be considered inactive if the facts warrant:  internal corrosion; manufacturing; construction; and equipment threats.  In particular, the Advisory provides guidance for when internal corrosion may be active or inactive and for the consideration of the status of equipment threats.  The remaining 5 threats (i.e., external corrosion; stress corrosion cracking; third party damage; incorrect operations; and weather related and outside forces), must always be considered active.  The Advisory background also reminds operators that in addition to the 9 threats, cyclic fatigue is an interactive threat that may be a relevant consideration where dents, gouges, ground movement or other defects are present.  Further, operators must have system-specific data to justify the inactive status of the cyclic fatigue threat.

The admonitions in this new Advisory are all grounded in existing law, thus the guidance is more reminder than new direction, but it encourages operators to note the distinctions between active and inactive threats (without eliminating any).  While the Advisory is directed to gas transmission pipeline operators and owners, oil operators should also be mindful of the guidance, especially those following the ASME B31.8S industry standard (even though it is not incorporated under Part 195) and those considering product changes.