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 and the National Association of Pipeline Safety Representatives (NAPSR) recently announced a one-day public workshop on Class Location Methodology to be held on April 16, 2014. 79 Fed. Reg. 16421 (March 25, 2014). The purpose of the workshop is to discuss whether applying the gas pipeline integrity management (IM) requirements beyond high consequence areas would mitigate the need for class location requirements, an issue that the 2012 amendments to the Pipeline Safety Act directed PHMSA to evaluate and report on to Congress by January 4, 2014 (no report has yet been issued). PHMSA invited public comment on this in 2011 (in conjunction with an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on natural gas IM) and again in 2013. The workshop will feature an overview of the comments received to date, as well as presentations from PHMSA, state regulators, and other stakeholders on both IM methodology and the use of class locations to identify areas of higher risk along pipelines.
PHMSA published an Information Collection Renewal Notice in June regarding the renewal of existing data that the Agency collects through the National Pipeline Mapping System (NPMS). 78 Fed. Reg. 36016 (June 14, 2013). Since that time, the Agency received one comment from the Pipeline Safety Trust (PST) requesting the following improvements to the data collected by the NPMS: (1) increase the accuracy of HCA data to assist local community emergency-planning efforts; (2) require that operators update NPMS information annually; and (3) require that operators provide system-specific information through the NPMS, such as pipe diameter, operating pressure, product transported, and potential impact radius. On September 18, 2013, PHMSA responded to the comment noting that it will consider these suggestions when evaluating further changes to the NPMS data requirements and by extending the comment period an additional thirty days to October 18, 2013. 78 Fed. Reg. 57455 (September 19, 2013). As discussed in a prior Pipelinelaw practice pointer on increased FOIA requests, PST’s comments touch upon issues related to sensitive infrastructure data, such as detailed information regarding pipeline location and characteristics, that may be protected from disclosure to third parties for security reasons under FOIA. The industry should be mindful of the risks inherent in making this information publicly available on the internet and possible options for limiting access to sensitive pipeline infrastructure information.
As required by Section 5 of the amendments to the Pipeline Safety Act, PHMSA is seeking public comment on whether application of integrity management (IM) requirements beyond high consequence areas would mitigate the need for class location requirements for gas transmission pipelines. 78 F.R. 46560 (August 1, 2013). PHMSA notes that the IM program provides additional safety for more densely populated areas based on periodic inspections and specified repair deadlines and that substituting an integrity management approach for pre-established class location requirements may allow pipelines to operate at higher pressures while conducting integrity inspections and remediation to maintain safety. As PHMSA explains, if class location designations are removed from the Part 192 regulations, many regulatory sections would have to be reevaluated. The Agency asks for comment on 15 questions, many with numerous subparts, geared largely toward whether and how to apply a single design factor if class locations are eliminated. The comment period ends on September 30, 2013. The Pipeline Safety Act requires PHMSA to issuing a report to Congress containing with its analysis and findings on this issue by January 3, 2014.