The state of Texas and the Texas Railroad Commission have petitioned the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to review PHMSA’s interim final rule regulating underground natural gas storage facilities. As required by the Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act of 2016, PHMSA published an interim final rule last December establishing minimum federal safety standards for underground natural gas storage facilities, which became effective in January. Such facilities have come under increased scrutiny since the 2015 Aliso Canyon storage field leak that lasted almost four months.
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.
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.
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.
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 issued an interim final rule (IFR) to establish – for the first time ever – minimum federal standards for underground natural gas storage facilities. The IFR imposes significant new requirements in a short timeframe for “downhole facilities,” including wells, wellbore tubing and casings at underground natural gas storage facilities. The IFR addresses construction, maintenance, risk management and integrity management procedures for these facilities and incorporates the requirements of recent API industry Recommended Practices (RPs) 1170 for salt caverns storing natural gas and 1171 for storage in depleted hydrocarbon reservoirs and aquifer reservoirs. In addition, the IFR requires underground gas storage operators to prepare and file annual reports, incident reports, safety-related condition repairs and register their facilities in the PHMSA operator registry.
In coordination with the TSA, PHMSA issued an advisory to remind the industry of the importance of safeguarding pipeline facilities and monitoring SCADA systems for indications of unauthorized access or interference with pipeline operations. This advisory was issued in response to October 11, 2016 attempts by unauthorized individuals to shut down major pipeline facilities in four states across the U.S. Such activities endangered public safety by creating the potential for death, injury, serious infrastructure damage, and significant economic and environmental harm. The individuals were arrested and face serious charges. In the advisory, PHMSA highlights the need for increased awareness and vigilance by the industry and the public.