PHMSA working to address gas storage problems, administrator says

The US Pipeline & Hazardous Safety Administration is moving ahead with the US Department of Energy to address natural gas storage problems exemplified by the late-2015 leak at Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Canyon facility near Los Angeles that took months to stop, PHMSA Administrator Marie Therese Dominguez said.

The incident illustrated the consequences of not investing in and maintaining aging systems, Dominguez said May 3 during remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

States and the gas industry already have done a lot of work, but Dominguez said she sees an opportunity to establish minimum federal gas storage standards as a result of the Aliso Canyon leak.

“We’re focusing on standards which could be put in place,” she said. “We’re advancing and defining that right now, and not waiting for legislation to be put in place.”

Dominguez said PHMSA already has had conversations with regulators in 10 states who also participated in the American Petroleum Institute’s development with other stakeholders of API Recommended Practice 1173.

“I think we have an advantage because there’s been a lot of collaboration about storage needs among states and the industry in the last 20 years,” she said. “Any state can go beyond minimum federal standards with more stringent rules, of course, and some seem prepared to do so.”

The PHMSA-DOE storage tank taskforce, which was formed soon after the Aliso Canyon leak was finally sealed in late February, has a further advantage since DOE’s five National Energy Technology Laboratories have significant scientific expertise which can be applied, Dominguez said.

The US Department of Transportation agency also has proposed new gas and liquids pipeline transmission rules after finalizing regulations for transportation of crude oil by rail in 2015, she noted. It also is trying to identify emerging, as well as existing, issues so it can adapt to try and address future problems effectively, she said.

“PHMSA is a fundamentally different place from when it was reorganized 10 years ago,” Dominguez said. “We’ve received significant support from Congress and have increased our workforce. While we have more inspectors now, our PHMSA 2021 organization framework will have an even bigger impact.

“We’re expanding our stakeholder outreach and providing more resources to our first responder partners in communities across the country, such as our emergency response guidebook which is available as a mobile app to manage incidents within the critical first 30 min,” she said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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