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.
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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.
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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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