PHMSA proposal would broaden gas pipeline safety requirements

The US Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration proposed broader natural gas transmission pipeline safety regulations that would add new assessment and repair criteria, and include lines in medium population density areas, called moderate consequence areas, where an incident would pose a risk to human life.

The proposed regulations provide pipeline operators with regulatory certainty, and respond to both congressional mandates and outside safety recommendations, the US Department of Transportation agency said as it released the proposed rule on Mar. 17.

Specifically, they address four congressional mandates from the 2011 Pipeline Safety Reauthorization law, one Government Accountability Office recommendation, and six National Transportation Safety Board recommendations, including one adopted following the Sept. 9, 2010, gas pipeline rupture and explosion in San Bruno, Calif., which killed eight people (OGJ Online, Jan. 6, 2011).

PMSA said pipelines built before 1970 are currently exempt from certain pipeline safety regulations because they were constructed and placed into operation before such requirements were developed, PHMSA explained. In its investigation of the PG&E gas pipeline failure and explosion, NTSB concluded that hydrostatic testing of grandfathered pipelines would have likely exposed the defective pipe that led to the San Bruno pipeline’s failure, PHMSA said.

“Following significant pipeline incidents such as the 2010 San Bruno, Calif., tragedy, there was a pressing need to enhance public safety and the integrity of the nation’s pipeline system,” PHMSA Administrator Marie Therese Dominguez said. “The proposal’s components address the emerging needs of America’s gas pipeline system, and adapt and expand risk-based safety practices to pipelines located in areas where incidents could have serious consequences.”

Comments on the proposed rule will be accepted for 60 days following its publication in the Federal Registered, which was expected shortly.

PHMSA said the proposed changes also are expected to reduce pipelines’ methane and other greenhouse gas emissions by lowering the number of incidents. The rule also would change the way pipeline operators secure and inspect gas transmission pipeline systems following extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and flooding. It also would:

• Modify repair criteria for pipelines inside and outside of high-consequence areas.

• Provide additional direction on how to evaluate internal inspection results to identify anomalies.

• Clarify requirements for conducting risk assessment for integrity management, including addressing seismic risk.

• Expand mandatory data collection and integration requirements for integrity management, including data validation and seismicity.

• Require additional post-construction quality inspections to address coating integrity and cathodic protection issues.

• Require new safety features for pipeline launchers and receivers.

• Require a systematic approach to verify a pipeline’s maximum allowable operating pressure (MAOP) and requiring operators to report MAOP exceedances.

Interstate Natural Gas Association of America Pres. Donald F. Santa said the association, which represents interstate gas pipelines, was encouraged to see PHMSA’s long-awaited proposals, and would begin to prepare its comments.

“Our initial analysis will focus on whether PHMSA’s proposal is consistent with the voluntary pipeline safety program INGAA’s members undertook in 2012,” he said on Mar. 17. “This plan included several provisions that we anticipate will be addressed in this new rule, including expanding the federal pipeline integrity management program and ensuring that all pipelines are fit for service.”

An American Petroleum Institute official also reinforced the oil and gas industry’s general goal of improving safety and reducing incidents to zero as PHMSA released its proposed gas pipeline safety requirements.

“Safety is our industry’s core value,” said API Midstream Group Director Robin Rorick Rorick. “As we assess the content of the rule, we will be looking to ensure that any proposed change to the current regulatory framework does not compromise safety.

“Our industry continues to lead on creating new standards to enhance pipeline safety, and we look forward to working with PHMSA to ensure this new rule works with ongoing industry efforts to achieve our joint goal of zero incidents,” he noted.

American Gas Association Pres. David J. McCurdy noted that gas utilities also have been working closely with PHMSA for the past 5 years to develop pipeline regulations. “We appreciate PHMSA’s efforts and look forward to continuing to work with them to help ensure that the final rule is technically-based, reasonable, and cost-effective,” he said.

“We will take the time to analyze the proposed changes and work with our members to evaluate the rule’s impact and the estimated costs for implementation,” McCurdy said. “AGA will submit detailed comments that reflect our members’ commitment to infrastructure safety and public safety, without placing an undue economic burden on our customers.”

Contact Nick Snow at

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