PHMSA publishes three final rules substantially amending the federal pipeline safety regulations

The PIOGA Press

(by Ashleigh Krick and Boyd Stephenson)

On October 1, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) published three long-awaited final rules amending the federal pipeline safety regulations. The first rule amends the federal safety standards for gas transmission lines. The second amends the federal safety standards for hazardous liquid pipelines. The third updates procedures for issuing emergency orders. These rules are summarized below.

Safety of gas transmission pipelines

The gas transmission rule, commonly referred to as the “Mega Rule,” is the first in a three-part series of rules that PHMSA will be issuing to substantially revise the current federal safety standards and establish new requirements for gas pipeline facilities. This rule responds to congressional mandates and National Transportation Safety Board recommendations that arose from the investigation a 2010 gas transmission line incident in San Bruno, California. The rule adopts new requirements for verifying pipeline materials, reconfirming maximum allowable operating pressure (MAOP) and performing periodic assessments of pipeline segments located outside of high consequence areas (HCAs). The rule also amends the integrity management (IM) requirements, establishes requirements for reporting MAOP exceedances, for using inline inspection (ILI) launcher and receivers, as well as related recordkeeping requirements. The rule takes effect on July 1, 2020, but includes staggered compliance deadlines that extend as far out as 15 years.

  • Materials verification. Operators will be required to conduct destructive and nondestructive tests to verify pipeline attributes when they do not have traceable, verifiable and complete records for such attributes in certain situations, such as MAOP reconfirmation, IM or repair requirements. The new requirements allow for collection of missing pipe attributes over time, whenever a pipeline segment is exposed for maintenance or repairs, until a minimum number of excavations are performed. Gathering and distribution lines are not subject to the new materials verification rules.
  • MAOP reconfirmation. Operators must reconfirm the MAOP of certain onshore gas transmission pipelines by using one of six methods spelled out in the new regulations. Operators must develop MAOP reconfirmation procedures by July 1, 2021, perform MAOP reconfirmation for at least 50 percent of covered pipeline mileage by July 3, 2028, and for all pipeline mileage by July 2, 2035, or four years from the date that a segment becomes subject to the regulation, whichever is later.
  • Assessing areas outside of HCAs. Operators must conduct an integrity assessment of certain onshore, steel, gas transmission pipeline segments with a MAOP above 30 percent specified minimum yield strength located in a Class 3 or 4 location or pipeline segments that can accommodate ILI tools and are located in the newly-defined moderate consequence area, which is an onshore area within a potential impact circle containing either five or more buildings or any portion of the paved surface of an interstate, freeway, expressway, or principal arterial roadway with four or more lanes.
  • Recordkeeping. The rule established a variety of new recordkeeping requirements, including records pertaining to class location, materials, design, components, welding, plastic pipe, testing and MAOP. The new requirements distinguish between the obligations that apply to operators of pipelines installed prior to July 1, 2020, which only require retention of existing records, and pipelines installed after then, which require operators make certain records.
  • Miscellaneous. PHMSA incorporated a series of ILI pipeline assessment industry consensus standards and expanded the array of assessment methods that operators may use in HCAs and in non-HCA areas. PHMSA also added requirements for protecting ILI launcher and receivers. The agency formally adopted the six-month grace period to the sevencalendar year maximum period for performing IM reassessments and requirements for reporting MAOP exceedances. Additionally, operators must consider seismicity as part of the threat evaluation under the IM program.

Safety of hazardous liquid pipelines

Ending a nearly decade-long rulemaking process, PHMSA issued a final rule amending the federal safety standards for hazardous liquid pipelines. A prior version was released in the last days of the Obama administration, but was sent back to PHMSA at the start of the Trump administration under a White House memorandum. This version of the rule incorporates input from the current administration, the most significant of which is removing new requirements for performing pipeline repairs. The rule takes effect on July 1, 2020. The most noteworthy provisions are summarized below.

  • Reporting requirements. Operators of gravity lines (with exception to lines that travel no farther than one mile from a facility boundary without crossing any waterways used for commercial navigation) and previously unregulated gathering lines must submit annual, accident and safety-related condition reports to PHMSA.
  • 72-hour inspections after extreme weather events. Within 72 hours after the cessation of the event (unless the operator notifies PHMSA that personnel or equipment are unavailable), operators are required to perform inspections of all pipeline facilities potentially affected by an extreme weather event that has a likelihood of scouring damage or moving soil surrounding the pipeline. Extreme weather events include tropical storms; hurricanes; floods exceeding river, shoreline or creek-high water banks; landslides; or earthquakes. Operators must take remedial action based upon inspection results.
  • Pipeline assessments for non-IM segments. Operators of onshore pipeline segments that can accommodate ILI tools and which are not currently subject to IM program requirements must perform integrity assessments, using ILI or an acceptable alternative technique if ILI is impracticable, at least once every 10 years, including an initial assessment by October 1, 2029.
  • Leak detection. All hazardous liquids pipelines, except for offshore gathering lines and regulated onshore gathering lines, must have an effective leak detection system.
  • Accommodation of ILI tools. All hazardous liquid pipelines in HCAs and areas that could affect HCAs must be capable of accommodating ILI tools within 20 years, unless the basic construction of the pipeline will not accommodate ILI tools or the operator determines that the high cost of compliance would force it to abandon the pipeline, subject to PHMSA approval.

Emergency order procedures

In response to authority granted in the 2016 PIPES Act, PHMSA published a final rule updating the regulations for issuing emergency orders to address unsafe operating conditions. Under the rule, PHMSA may impose restrictions, prohibitions, or safety measures on an operator or a group of operators to address an imminent hazard, without first providing prior public notice or the opportunity for a hearing. An emergency order could be triggered after a natural disaster, the discovery of serious flaws in pipelines or in equipment manufacturing processes, or when an accident reveals an unsafe industry practice. The new regulations limit the duration of emergency orders to 365 days, at which time PHMSA must determine whether to initiate a rulemaking or rescind the emergency order. The new regulations provide affected pipeline owners or operators a process to seek review of the emergency order. The rule takes effect on December 2, 2019.

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