API Reinforces Pipeline Safety Values Amid PHMSA Proposal

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Oil and gas industry proponents are highlighting the industry’s focus on safety in the aftermath of new regulations proposed by the U.S. government.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) announced proposed regulations to update critical safety requirements for natural gas transmission pipelines on March 17. Robin Rorick, midstream group director of industry trade association the American Petroleum Institute (API) responded with a statement reinforcing the oil and natural gas industry’s focus on safety and goal of zero incidents.

“We are currently reviewing the new PHMSA rule. Safety is our industry’s core value,” Rorick said. “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.”

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The proposed rule would broaden the scope of safety coverage by adding new assessment and repair criteria for gas transmission pipelines. The rules would also expand these protocols to include pipelines located in areas of medium population density, or Moderate Consequence Areas (MCAs), where an incident would pose risk to human life. The proposed rule provides pipeline operators with regulatory certainty and responds to both Congressional mandates and outside safety recommendations.

“The significant growth in the nation’s production, usage and commercialization of natural gas is placing unprecedented demands on the nation’s pipeline system,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “This proposal includes a number of commonsense measures that will better ensure the safety of communities living alongside pipeline infrastructure and protect our environment.”

The proposed regulations address four congressional mandates from the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act of 2011, one U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommendation and six National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendations, including the recommendation adopted in the wake of the 2010 San Bruno explosion that pipelines built before 1970 be tested.

Pipelines built before 1970 are currently exempted from certain pipeline safety regulations because they were constructed and placed into operation before pipeline safety regulations were developed. In its investigation of the Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) natural gas pipeline failure and explosion in San Bruno, California, the NTSB concluded that hydrostatic testing of grandfathered pipelines would have likely exposed the defective pipe that led to the pipeline failure.

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

The proposed changes provide pipeline operators with regulatory certainty that they need when making decisions and investments to improve gas transmission infrastructure, and address priorities outlined as part of the Climate Action Plan to reduce methane emissions. The proposed changes to gas transmission safety regulations are expected to result in fewer incidents, which could lead to a reduction in gas released into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases (GHG). The proposed rule is expected to result in net annual average reductions of 900-1,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide and 4,600-8,100 metric tons of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. The rule also proposes changes to the way that pipeline operators secure and inspect gas transmission pipeline infrastructure following extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and flooding.

In addition to the specific requirements mentioned above, the rulemaking proposal would revise and strengthen federal Pipeline Safety Regulations by:

  • Modifying repair criteria for pipelines inside and outside of high consequence areas.
  • Providing additional direction on how to evaluate internal inspection results to identify anomalies.
  • Clarifying requirements for conducting risk assessment for integrity management, including addressing seismic risk.
  • Expanding mandatory data collection and integration requirements for integrity management, including data validation and seismicity.
  • Requiring additional post-construction quality inspections to address coating integrity and cathodic protection issues.
  • Requiring new safety features for pipeline launchers and receivers.
  • Requiring a systematic approach to verify a pipeline’s maximum allowable operating pressure (MAOP) and requiring operators to report MAOP exceedances.

The notice of proposed rulemaking has been transmitted to the Federal Register for publication. An actual date of publication will be determined by the Federal Register, but a preview of the rulemaking proposal transmitted by PHMSA is available on the agency’s website.

“Our industry continues to lead on creating new standards to enhance pipeline safety,” Rorick added. “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.”

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