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).

Continue Reading Concerns about HCA Identification Methods Prompts Advisory

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.

On December 13, 2012, pursuant to an OMB information collection, PHMSA published a Federal Register notice soliciting comments from operators of hazardous liquid pipelines in HCAs regarding the information-collection requirements relative to the IMP provisions of 49 C.F.R. Part 195.452. Comments were invited on: (a) The need for the proposed collection of information for the proper performance of the functions of the agency, including whether the information will have practical utility; (b) the accuracy of the agency’s estimate of the burden of the proposed collection of information, including the validity of the methodology and assumptions used; (c) ways to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected; and (d) ways to minimize the burden of the collection of information on those who are to respond, including the use of appropriate automated, electronic, mechanical, or other technological collection techniques. No comments were received during the initial 60-day notice period, and the purpose of today’s notice is to allow the public an additional 30 days to send comments to OMB regarding the information collection. The 30 day extension announced today is scheduled for publication on Monday, March 18, and is expected to run through April 17, 2013. Click here for a copy of today’s Federal Register Notice, and here for a copy of the December 13, 2012 notice.

In the wake of last month’s incident in Sissonville, West Virginia, Senator Rockefeller hosted a Senate Commerce Committee field hearing in Charleston, West Virginia to review pipeline safety. The witnesses included: (1) Sissonville resident Sue Bonham who lost her home; (2) NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman; (3) PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman; (4) Susan Fleming of GAO; (5) Columbia Gas Transmission executive Jimmy Staton; and (6) Rick Kessler, President of the Pipeline Safety Trust. The hearing singled out various concerns, including improving communication with emergency responders, improving operators’ ability to quickly respond to an incident, and stronger integrity management plans (and identification of high consequence areas (HCAs)).

As required by the 2012 amendments to the Pipeline Safety Act, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) released a report examining the ability of transmission pipeline operators to respond to releases in high consequence areas (HCAs). The report titled, “Better Data and Guidance Needed to Improve Pipeline Operator Incident Response,” concludes that (1) DOT should improve incident response data to evaluate whether to implement a performance- based framework for incident response times, (2) installation of automated valves should be decided on a case by case basis because the advantages and disadvantages are specific to the valve’s location, and (3) DOT should share existing guidance and operator evaluations and analyses regarding whether to install automated valves. Click here to review the report.

In response to NTSB recommendations issued as a result of the San Bruno incident, PHMSA issued guidance on what it considers to be an effective integrity management (IM) performance evaluation process and program for measuring program effectiveness.  In addition, PHMSA IM inspections will emphasize review of operator IM performance metric methodology and confirm that operators maintain “adequate records” in support of its performance evaluation program.  Instructive for both gas and liquid IM program personnel, PHMSA summarizes specific characteristics that it expects to see in an “effective” operator IM performance evaluation process and program.  Click here to review the Advisory Bulletin.

On November 8, 2012, PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman addressed the AOPL- API Leadership meeting in Washington, DC. Notably, Ms. Quarterman mentioned the following PHMSA priorities, among others, (1) draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for hazardous liquid pipelines (expected later this month); (2) review of leak detection and valve studies required by the 2012 amendments to the Pipeline Safety Act and comments received on the same (comment period closed in late October); and (3) refinement of the Agency’s integrity management regulations, referred to as “IMP 2.0” (expected in 2013). Click here for the prepared statement.

PHMSA will host a public meeting on the use of pipeline data in operator IMP programs on October 29 and 30, 2012 in Washington DC, which will also be available by webcast. Speakers at the meeting include Mark Rosekind of the NTSB, as well as representatives from PHMSA, NAPSR and the Pipeline Safety Trust. Click here for the Notice and here for the registration page.

In response to industry requests for an extension of the comment period for PHMSA’s Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding the safety of natural gas transmission lines, the Agency has extended the comment period from December 2, 2011 to January 20, 2012. Click here to view the Federal Register Notice published November 16, 2011.  Click here to view the ANPRM published August 25, 2011.

The NTSB held a hearing and issued a synopsis of its investigation into the San Bruno rupture that occurred on September 9, 2010, including 28 findings and 29 new recommendations directed to DOT, PHMSA, CPUC, and PGE. The NTSB is currently making final revisions to its report. Click here to view the synopsis and summary, and click here for the full final report.