PHMSA proposes new hazardous liquids pipeline safety regulations

Under newly proposed hazardous liquid pipeline safety regulations, the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration would require pipelines to have leak-detection systems and timelines for inspecting affected segments following an extreme weather event or natural disaster, the US Department of Transportation agency said.

The Oct. 1 proposal, PHMSA said, also would require pipeline operators to conduct yearly evaluations of implemented protection measures in heavily populated and other high-consequence areas and take additional steps where necessary.

The proposal also would set a deadline for operators to use internal inspection tools where possible for any new and replaced pipeline that could affect an HCA, PHMSA said. It will accept written comments through Jan. 8, 2016.

The proposed rule would change significantly the way operators manage risk and improve safety along the nearly 200,000 miles of US hazardous liquids pipelines, PHMSA Administrator Marie Therese Dominguez said.

“The new requirements would strengthen the standards that determine how operators repair aging and high-risk infrastructure, increase the quality and frequency of tests that assess the condition of pipelines, and require that all hazardous liquid pipelines have a system to detect leaks,” she said.

PHMSA said the proposed regulations include an increased focus on a data and risk informed pipeline safety approach by requiring operators to integrate available data, including information on the operating environment, pipeline condition, and known manufacturing and construction defects.

Less than $100 million/year

The proposed rule is a significant action under DOT’s regulatory policies and procedures, but is not economically significant under Executive Orders 12866 and 13563 because the estimated annual impact is less than $100 million, Econometrica Inc. of Bethesda, Md., said in a preliminary regulatory impact analysis it prepared for PHMSA.

The agency said the proposal addresses four congressional mandates, two National Transportation Safety Board recommendations, and a Government Accountability Office recommendation that PHMSA gather information and incident history for onshore hazardous liquid gathering lines to determine if stronger regulations are needed.

Oil industry pipeline groups responded that they would continue to actively support safety improvement efforts. “We are always looking for new ways to enhance an already safe industry,” American Petroleum Institute Midstream Group Director Robin Rorick said. “We need a practical pipeline safety rule for hazardous liquids that will complement industry’s strong safety standards.”

Rorick said API’s recently issued Recommended Practice 1173 is a prime example of industry efforts to keep safe operations liquid pipelines’ number one priority (OGJ Online, July 8, 2015). RP 1172 builds on existing safety requirements to further monitor and measure the effectiveness of pipeline activities with a “plan, do, check, and act” philosophy that requires periodic reviews and applies changes or corrections to activities as needed, Rorick said.

Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust in Bellingham, Wash., said the advocacy group was happy to see PHMSA propose new pipeline safety regulations. He also expressed disappointment that the agency waited nearly 5 years to act since the 2011 Pipeline Safety Reauthorization Act became law because the proposals do not address many concerns arising from recent spills.

“Requiring leak detection is good, but without a standard to define how such systems need to perform the requirement is nearly meaningless,” Weimer said. “Requiring inspection of pipelines after major flooding and weather events is a good idea, but we had hoped that PHMSA would also require proactive efforts to prevent spills from pipelines before such events occur.”

Weimer also applauded proposing that more pipelines use smart pigs, but questioned allowing lines that already are 50-60 years old another 20 years to make these needed improvements.

Contact Nick Snow at

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