PHMSA issues state pipeline excavation damage prevention programs rule

The US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a final rule to establish the process for evaluating state excavation damage prevention programs and enforcing federal standards in states where such requirements are inadequate or do not exist.

Excavation damage is a leading cause of serious pipeline accidents, US Sec. of Transportation Anthony Foxx said as the rules were announced on July 13. “The rule strengthens our ability to take enforcement action against those who violate pipeline damage prevention requirements, and to address one of the greatest threats to pipeline safety,” Foxx noted.

The 2006 Pipeline Inspection, Protection, Enforcement, and Safety Act gave the US Department of Transportation authority to take this action, PHMSA said, adding that the final rule amends federal pipeline safety regulations by establishing:

• Criteria and procedures PHMSA will use to determine whether state pipeline excavation damage prevention law enforcement programs are adequate.

• An administrative process for states to contest inadequacy notices from PHMSA if they choose to do so.

• Federal requirements PHMSA will enforce against excavators for violations in states with inadequate excavation damage prevention law enforcement programs.

• An adjudication process for administrative enforcement proceedings against excavators where federal authority is exercised.

“Between 1988 and 2014, there were 1,815 pipeline incidents caused by excavation damage that resulted in 193 deaths, 757 injuries, and nearly $545 million in property damage,” PHMSA Interim Executive Director Stacy Cummings said.

PHMSA published an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) on the excavation damage rule in 2009 and a NOPR in 2012. It transmitted the final rule to the Federal Register, where it is expected to be published in 3-5 days. A 60-day public comment period will begin at that time.

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