Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) Administrator Marie Therese Dominguez have appointed a new Chief Counsel for PHMSA, Teresa A. Gonsalves. Ms. Gonsalves’ immediately prior experience is with the Office of Personnel Management and the U.S. Postal Service. Administrator Dominguez, who has been in her current position for less than a year, also came from prior experience with the U.S. Postal Service.
The ongoing leak of methane from Southern California Natural Gas Company’s Aliso Canyon/Porter Ranch underground storage field near Los Angeles has drawn national attention to underground natural gas storage, triggering regulatory and legislative efforts to regulate these facilities at federal and state levels. On the regulatory front, President Obama recently committed to direct PHMSA to promulgate new storage regulations. Just this week, PHMSA announced a new Advisory Bulletin on managing the integrity of underground natural gas storage facilities.
PHMSA has again released an advisory to pipeline operators on the potential for damage to pipeline facilities caused by severe flooding, as well as actions operators should consider taking to ensure the integrity of pipelines in the event of flooding, river scour, and river channel migration. The advisory is essentially identical to advisories PHMSA has issued on the same topic in July 2013 and April 2015 (see previous posts on these advisories from 2013 and 2015), reflecting a tendency of the Agency to issue such guidance cyclically.
FERC recently published a revised draft Guidance Manual for Environmental Report Preparation for review and public comment. The revised Guidance Manual updates FERC’s 2002 guidance manual on environmental report preparation for projects seeking FERC authorization under the Natural Gas Act (NGA), supplementing the previous guidance as well as adding new sections explaining requirements for environmental report preparation. This substantial enhancement of the Commission’s 2002 guidance likely reflects increased scrutiny by environmental groups and others of FERC’s compliance with its NEPA obligations in authorizing natural gas and LNG projects.
At an emergency press conference held today by the United States Department of Transportation (DOT), Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx announced that DOT has issued a one-time approval for special operating authority to engage in air transportation to specified markets. The approval will be limited in duration, valid only from the evening of December 24 until early morning on December 25, 2015. In granting this authority, DOT has approved one-time use of a specially powered aircraft, which the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved for nighttime operations.
The full press conference is worth viewing, with a link here.
In response to comments and concerns from industry stakeholders, PHMSA recently revised its National Pipeline Mapping System (NPMS) information collection proposal that was issued over a year ago. Operators and industry members expressed concern in particular about the cost and time necessary to submit additional pipeline attributes as well as the sensitive nature of certain data. In response, the Agency reduced the number attributes it proposes to collect by a quarter, proposed to restrict access to certain sensitive security information, and outlined a three year phase-in period for the new attributes. While this represents an improvement from PHMSA’s initial proposal, many in the industry argued at a recent workshop that it is still unduly burdensome.
New FAQs on PHMSA/OSHA Boundaries for Regulatory Oversight at Midstream Facilities have been developed and presented to PHMSA management for final approval. The 7 new Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) (click on Day 2, Item 2) were presented to PHMSA management and the Technical Advisory Committees (TACs) for both the liquid and gas industries at a meeting in D.C. at the end of August 2015. The FAQs are intended to avoid gaps or overlaps in regulatory oversight of midstream facilities, and provide more certainty to both the regulated community and state and federal agencies.
PHMSA has re-issued an Advisory, reminding gas and hazardous liquid pipeline operators of the potential for damage to their pipeline facilities caused by the passage of hurricanes. The Advisory, which was originally published in 2011, explains that hurricanes can adversely affect pipeline operations and can increase the risk of pipelines becoming exposed or constituting a hazard to navigation in the case of underwater pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico. According to PHMSA, such circumstances trigger an operator’s obligation to take appropriate corrective measures. 80 Fed. Reg. 36042, 36043 (June 23, 2015) (citing 49 C.F.R. Parts 192.613 (surveillance of gas pipelines); 195.401(b) (repairs on hazardous liquid pipelines); 192.613, 195.413 (underwater inspections of shallow-water gas and hazardous liquid pipelines)).
In response to recent crude by rail incidents in the United States and Canada, Congress, PHMSA, NTSB, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), and even some railroads have proposed improvements in safety standards for trains transporting crude oil. PHMSA originally planned to issue new tank car safety standards and regulations for the phase-out of older tank cars in March, but has since moved that date back to May. Due to that delay and the continued occurrence of rail incidents, Congress and the NTSB have called for PHMSA to establish improved safety standards, some of which exceed the standards in the Agency’s current proposal (discussed below). In response, DOT (through PHMSA and FRA, the agencies charged with regulating rail safety) announced three Safety Advisories and one Emergency Order on April 17, 2015, all intended to address specific issues identified in recent train accidents involving crude oil and ethanol shipper by rail. The Safety Advisories are directed at both shippers and rail carriers, and cover topics such as emergency response information, accident investigations, and mechanical inspection and detection issues. The Emergency Order requires “affected trains,” defined to include those containing at least one DOT-111 tank car and transporting large amounts of Class 3 flammable liquids in a continuous block, to adhere to a maximum operating speed limit of 40 miles per hour through highly populated areas.
PHMSA issued an updated advisory regarding the potential for damage to pipeline facilities caused by severe flooding. Presumably prompted by the January 2015 release to the Yellowstone river in Glendive, Montana, associated with an area of exposed pipeline on the river bottom, the Agency reiterated the nine (9) actions it has set forth in prior advisories to prevent and mitigate damage to pipelines impacted by flooding. See e.g., Advisory, 76 FR 44985 (Jul. 27, 2011); see also prior pipelinelaw alert regarding the same. Notably, PHMSA adds the following five (5) additional actions to its previous list: Continue Reading Advisory Regarding Damage to Pipelines from Flooding