Gas Pipeline Group’s Meeting Signals Stricter Safety Rules

Law360

(by Keith Coyle)

The Gas Pipeline Advisory Committee, or GPAC, the federal advisory committee that reviews the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s gas pipeline safety rulemaking proposals, met in Washington, D.C., late last month to consider proposed changes to PHMSA’s regulations for onshore gas gathering lines. Driven by recent developments in the oil and gas industry, particularly the expansion of pipeline infrastructure in the nation’s shale plays, PHMSA published a notice of proposed rulemaking in April 2016 that contained significant amendments to the federal safety standards and reporting requirements for rural gas gathering lines.

While the Trump administration had signaled a willingness to pursue a more measured approach, the GPAC largely endorsed the prior administration’s position, a decision that could ultimately produce a final rule with far-reaching impacts for the industry. According to PHMSA’s latest estimates, the GPAC’s recommended proposal would make about 90,000 miles of additional gas gathering lines subject to the agency’s gas pipeline safety standards. The Trump administration’s alternative would only extend the agency’s gas pipeline safety standards to about 25,000 miles of additional gas gathering lines greater than 12 inches in diameter.

The GPAC’s decision to back more ambitious rules for rural gas gathering lines could represent a dramatic turning point for the industry. Most of the nation’s gas gathering infrastructure has remained outside the reach of PHMSA’s jurisdiction for decades, due to a long-standing statutory exemption and the absence of sufficient safety data to justify federal regulations.

But the emergence in recent years of larger-diameter, higher-pressure gas gathering lines in the nation’s shale plays has raised concerns about the need for new safety standards and reporting requirements. Whether those concerns warrant the expansive rules contemplated by the GPAC, which would extend PHMSA’s safety standards to approximately 32,000 miles of 8-inch-diameter gas gathering lines in sparsely populated rural locations, will likely remain the primary point of contention throughout the remainder of the rulemaking process.

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