PHMSA issues final rule aimed at improving liquids pipeline safety

The US Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration completed one of its top priority rulemakings for 2016 as Administrator Marie Therese Dominguez signed long-awaited safety requirements for onshore hazardous materials pipelines. The final rule makes critical safety improvements, PHMSA said. An American Petroleum Institute official said it still falls short of what is needed.

“This is a forward-looking rule. It pushes operators to invest in increased data capabilities, to continuously improve their processes to assess and mitigate risk, and strengthens our framework for strong prescriptive regulations,” Dominguez said.

PHMSA said in its announcement that the final rule:

• Includes an increased focus on a data and risk-informed approach to pipeline safety by requiring operators to integrate available information, including data on the operating environment, pipeline condition, and known manufacturing and construction defects.

• Requires pipeline operators to have a system for detecting leaks and to establish a timeline for inspecting affected pipelines following an extreme weather event or natural disaster.

• Requires operators to evaluate protective measures annually that they are already required to implement on pipeline segments that operate in high consequence areas (HCA), where pipeline failures have the highest potential for human or environmental damage, and implement additional measures where they are necessary.

• Sets a deadline for operators to use internal inspection tools where possible for any new and replaced pipeline that could affect an HCA.

• Improves the quality and frequency of tests used to assess threats and the condition of pipelines.

• Updates repair criteria under PHMSA’s risk-based management framework by expanding the list of conditions that require immediate repairs.

PHMSA said the US contains nearly 200,000 miles of hazardous liquid pipelines operating near local communities and treasured landscapes, and crossing major bodies of water, including rivers. The new final rule strengthens the standards that determine how operators repair aging and high-risk infrastructure, increases the quality and frequency of tests that assess the condition of pipelines, and extends leak detection the requirements to onshore, non-HCA transmission hazardous liquid pipelines, it said.

“Pipelines are extremely safe and 99.999% of the product reaches its destination without incident, but we’re not satisfied until 100% of our product reaches its destination without incident,” API Midstream Group Director Robin Rorick said.

Rorick said API and PHMSA share the same objective of safe liquids pipeline operations, but expressed concern that the new requirements—while an improvement over previous versions—potentially could decrease, instead of improve, pipeline safety. “The agency’s ‘one size fits all’ approach in portions of the final pipeline rule creates situations where industry will be forced to redirect its attention away from areas that present higher risks to those that are lower in risk,” Rorick said.

“Pipeline operators work diligently and spend billions of dollars every year to construct, operate, and maintain their facilities in a safe and reliable manner,” Rorick said. “It makes little sense to issue a rule that at times inhibits or weakens an operator’s ability to do that.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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