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.
During the last week of the Obama Administration, PHMSA released a pre-publication copy of the hazardous liquid pipeline safety final rule, which has been six years in the making. The rulemaking was intended to address issues raised by several sources: high profile pipeline accidents; directives contained in amendments to the Pipeline Safety Act; and recommendations from the NTSB and GAO. The final rule would implement many significant and expansive inspection and reporting requirements, including periodic integrity assessments and leak detection for pipelines outside of high consequence areas (HCAs), inspections of pipelines after extreme weather events, expanded reporting, and more stringent integrity management repair and data collection requirements.
On the first day of the new Trump Administration, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus issued a Memorandum to the heads of all Executive Departments and Agencies, requesting that all federal agencies suspend transmittal of any new proposed or final rules to the Office of the Federal Register (OFR) until the new Administration’s Agency appointees have an opportunity to review such proposals. The Memo also asks all agencies to “immediately withdraw” any proposed or final regulations that have been sent to the OFR but not yet published in the Federal Register (there is always at least a several day delay between the time that new rules are sent to OFR and then published in the Federal Register). In addition, the Memo requests that Agencies postpone the effective date (by at least 60 days) of any rules that have been published in the Federal Register but have not yet become effective.
Citing concerns that intrastate and small gas transmission pipeline operators may not be accurately identifying high consequence areas (HCAs) as part of their integrity management programs (IMP), PHMSA issued yet another advisory to the industry on December 12, 2016. In its seventh advisory issued this year, PHMSA explains the need for further guidance on the methodology based on recent inspections as well as a Safety Recommendation issued by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in 2015 (NTSB Recommendation P-15-06, issued in conjunction with the Board’s Safety Study of implementation of gas transmission integrity management rules).
PHMSA has rescheduled the public meetings of the Gas Pipeline Advisory Committee (GPAC) for January 11-12, 2017. The purpose of these meetings is to discuss PHMSA’s proposed gas mega rule and the underlying regulatory analysis. The meetings were previously scheduled for December 7-8, 2016, but have been rescheduled based on the availability of committee members and resources.
The Gas Pipeline Advisory Committee (GPAC) will meet in Washington, D.C. next month to discuss PHMSA’s proposed gas rules. The meetings are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, December 7-8, 2017, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. both days. The meetings will not be webcast, but materials will become available on the www.regulations.gov website within 30 days after the sessions end (search for docket number PHMSA-2016-0136). PHMSA asks anyone planning to attend to register by December 1.
A previously abandoned natural gas pipeline exploded in Seattle, Washington on March 9, 2016, injuring nine firefighters, destroyed two buildings, and damaged multiple nearby structures. The entity responsible for regulating intrastate and interstate gas pipelines in the state, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, recently released a report from its investigation of the incident, concluding that it was caused by (1) external damage to the above-ground portion of the service line; and (2) improper abandonment of the line, which had not been cut and capped when it was taken out of service in 2004. The report highlights the importance of adhering to federal regulatory requirements concerning proper pipeline abandonment, which was also the subject of a recent PHMSA Advisory Bulletin issued in response to a Congressional directive in the 2016 PIPES Act.
A recent PHMSA Advisory Bulletin warns the pipeline industry about Corrosion Under Insulation (CUI), which is frequently used on pipe transporting heavy crude oil. Such products are often heated for more efficient transport, thus the pipe is wrapped with foam insulation over the coating, and then further covered with a tape wrap over the insulation. The crude oil release from a Plains All American pipeline near Santa Barbara in May of 2015 used such thermal insulation, and the government’s investigation following that release prompted this Advisory from PHMSA.
PHMSA announced that it will extend the comment period on its proposed gas rule by only 30 days, with comments due on or before July 7, 2016. Due to the scope and complexity of the proposal, numerous parties requested a 60 day extension of the comment period. In granting the 30 day extension, PHMSA noted that the proposal was made available to the public 3 weeks before its publication. That said, the Agency has still not posted information necessary to fully respond to the proposed rules in the rulemaking docket, such as the Agency’s class location report which is still under internal review within the Department of Transportation.
In addition to granting an extension for comments, the Agency committed to holding public webinars and briefings on the rule at two upcoming advisory committee meetings. The Spring 2016 Technical Advisory Committee meetings have not yet been officially scheduled, but they are anticipated to occur in May or June. Advance notice of the meeting date and additional specifics will be published in the Federal Register 15 days prior to the meeting.
The proposed rule would significantly expand regulations regarding transmission and gathering pipelines under 49 C.F.R. Parts 191 and 192. These proposals include: reporting requirements for all gathering pipelines regardless of whether they are regulated, routine testing and repair requirements outside of high consequence areas, material documentation and MAOP verification requirements, among others.
The extension of the comment will be formalized in a forthcoming Federal Register notice.
PHMSA’s expansive Natural Gas Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will be published in the Federal Register tomorrow, April 8, 2016. The Agency released a pre-publication version of its proposed rulemaking several weeks ago, but note that the Federal Register pre-publication version of what will be officially published tomorrow contains slight non-substantive differences from the Agency’s prior released version (e.g., capitalizations, movement of certain proposed revisions among subsections, etc.). The proposal significantly expands numerous requirements for gas transmission and gathering pipelines. Publication in the Federal Register triggers the start of the comment period, with comments due on or before June 7, 2016, unless an extension is granted. Due to the complexity and volume of the proposed changes, several industry trade groups already have requests pending for a 60 day extension of the comment deadline.