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.
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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.  
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.”).
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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.
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