Two notable developments in the past few weeks signal potential changes ahead to the policies and timeframes for pipeline approvals, particularly natural gas pipelines under Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or the “Commission”) oversight. These developments reflect both the increased public scrutiny of the pipeline approval process seen in recent years and the emphasis placed by the current administration on expediting review and approval of major infrastructure projects, two factors that are in some tension with each other. Continue Reading Recent Developments Signal Changes for Content and Timing of Pipeline Reviews
Earlier this month, the United States House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology published a staff report entitled “Russian Attempts to Influence U.S. Domestic Energy Markets by Exploiting Social Media.” The report is the result of the Committee’s investigation into Russian efforts to influence U.S. energy markets. Continue Reading House Committee Report Highlights Russian Use of Social Media to Disrupt Pipeline Projects
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or the Commission) announced last month that it will review its policies governing the certification process for natural gas pipelines. The announcement was made by FERC Chairman Kevin J. McIntyre on December 21, 2017, in fulfillment of a pledge that he made during his Senate confirmation hearing in September 2017. The format and scope of the review are still being determined. Continue Reading FERC to Review Natural Gas Pipeline Certification Policies in the New Year
Recent months have seen the appointment and confirmation of top posts in key pipeline regulatory agencies, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). While developments are generally good news for the pipeline industry—in that they are likely to mean expeditious project approvals and a clear chain of command at the agencies—the past few weeks have seen interesting departures from past practices, as discussed in more detail below.
PHMSA is extending the deadline for comments due today (March 21, 2017) on the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) issued on January 18, 2017. The new deadline for comments is May 19, 2017. The ANPRM was issued in response to a petition for rulemaking filed by state of New York, enquiring about risks posed by transport of petroleum by means other than pipeline, specifically by rail, and whether to establish vapor pressure standards for the transportation of crude oil. The ANPRM requested comments on whether a national standard should be developed for vapor pressure of crude oil, including the potential safety benefits and costs of establishing a standard. The intent of the ANPRM is to evaluate measures to reduce risk of fire and explosion in non-pipeline transport of crude oil such as a national vapor pressure standard and, if so, adopt appropriate threshold recommendations for the standard.
The Department of Commence published a request for comments related to implementation of the January 24, 2017 Executive Memorandum regarding “Construction of American Pipelines.” The short Memorandum directs the Secretary of Commerce to “develop a plan under which all new pipelines, as well as retrofitted, repaired, or expanded pipelines, inside the borders of the United States, including portions of pipelines, use materials and equipment produced in the United States, to the maximum extent possible and to the extent permitted by law.” The Commerce Department is directed to submit its Plan to the President within 180 days, or by July 23, 2017. The Memorandum also notes that “produced in the United States” excludes manufacture of any components or any assembly done abroad, but provides no further clarification on applicability.
President Trump signed another Executive Order (EO) on January 30, 2017, entitled Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs. The new EO, applicable to the entire Executive Branch, including all federal administrative agencies, makes a straightforward directive: “…for every one new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination.” The Order goes on to state that the costs associated with any new regulations may not exceed the savings realized by repealing at least two prior regulations (“the total incremental cost of all new regulations…shall be no greater than zero.”).
In his first days as President, Donald Trump has issued several directives to expedite pipeline and energy infrastructure projects and bring pipe steel manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. Through an executive order, the President directed federal agencies to expedite environmental reviews and approvals for all infrastructure projects, with emphasis on “high priority” projects such as pipelines. In addition, the President issued two executive memoranda to renew and expedite the approval of two oil pipeline construction projects, the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). In another executive memo, Trump directed the Commerce Department to prepare a plan under which all new and repaired pipe used in the U.S. would be manufactured stateside. In issuing these presidential directives, the new administration has furthered prior commitments to support pipeline infrastructure and domestic jobs, but whether these directives can truly expedite the necessary remaining approvals for Keystone XL and DAPL remains uncertain in light of limited consequence of these executive directives (beyond the executive branch) and the inevitable legal challenges.
The Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report criticizing PHMSA’s implementation of Congressional mandates and recommendations from the NTSB, GAO and the OIG itself. The OIG’s findings paint a troubling picture of an unsophisticated agency. OIG highlights in particular the lack of sufficient procedures to track rulemakings and coordinate within various departments within the agency and with other intermodal agencies, resulting in delayed rulemakings and implementation of recommendations. While PHMSA has already been implementing organizational changes, the OIG notes that it is too soon to determine whether they will adequately address the Agency’s ability to meet mandates and recommendations in full and in time.
The Interagency Task force on Natural Gas Storage Safety formed last April in response to the massive prolonged Aliso Canyon gas leak, recently issued its report on the safety and reliability of underground natural gas storage. The report responds to a Congressional mandate in the recent reauthorization of the Pipeline Safety Act. It includes numerous (44) recommendations to industry to reduce the likelihood of leaks at underground natural gas storage facilities and minimize the impacts of leaks when they occur. These recommendations are not binding, but PHMSA is required to consider them in issuing final rules pursuant to 2016 Pipeline Safety Act amendments. The report recommendations primarily address well integrity, risk management, and data gathering and recordkeeping, which are likely to be incorporated in PHMSA’s forthcoming interim final rule to establish minimum federal standards. The Agency plans to issue an interim final rule before the end of this year. As this will be a new area of regulation for the Agency, industry should be mindful of the various legal issues regarding jurisdiction, state regulation and preemption, and dual jurisdiction, among others.