PHMSA proposes pipeline accident notification regulations

The US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has proposed new federal oil and gas pipeline accident and notification regulations. Operators would be required to notify the National Response Center (NRC) of a release at the earliest practicable time following its confirmed discovery, but not more than an hour after that point, the US Department of Transportation agency said on July 1.

It said the proposed rule also would let PHMSA recover pipeline review costs, and addresses several National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendations related to operator qualification programs, personnel training, drug and alcohol testing, and acceptable methods for assessing crack defects in pipelines.

The proposed rulemaking, which PHMSA posted at its web site, has been transmitted to the Federal Register for publication, the agency said. Comments will be accepted for 60 days after publication.

“This proposed rule will improve safety in a number of ways, including a notification time limit which eliminates any ambiguity about timeliness in reporting and is crucial to the ability to mitigate damage and protect people, property, and the environment following an incident,” US Sec. of the Treasury Anthony Foxx said.

PHMSA said federal regulations currently do not specify a notification time limit following a release’s discovery, but operators are required to notify NRC of a release at the earliest practicable moment. Section 9 of the 2011 Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act directed PHMSA to notify the center by telephone that a leak has been discovered within a specific period, it said.

Earlier notification advice

The agency previously advised operators that earliest practicable opportunity usually meant 1-2 hr after an incident’s discovery. It said the proposed rulemaking would establish an enforceable time limit for pipeline failure notification.

The proposal adds to PHMSA’s Jan. 30, 2013, Advisory Bulletin advising pipeline operators to contact NRC within 1 hr of an incident’s discovery. It also clarifies the practical meaning of confirmed discovery to when there is sufficient information to determine that a reportable event has occurred, even if an evaluation has not been completed, PHMSA said.

It said that in addition to establishing pipeline failure notification time limits, the proposed rulemaking also addresses Section 13 of the Pipeline Safety Act, which allows PHMSA to recover costs for pipeline design reviews, and several NTSB recommendations.

“All of these updates together will provide significant safety benefits and move us closer to addressing pending Congressional mandates and other important safety recommendations,” PHMSA Interim Executive Director Stacy Cummings said.

PHMSA announced the proposed rules hours after Robin Rorick, American Petroleum Institute midstream and industry operations group director, told reporters that API expects to issue in another few weeks a new recommended practice focusing on creating a safety culture for pipelines from a company’s chief executive down to construction workers and control room operators (OGJ Online, July 1, 2015).

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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