Every time I speak at industry conferences, I am asked “what’s on the horizon for new regulation?” For the last five years, I’ve been predicting more rigorous regulation of gathering lines.

Anyone paying attention to the heightened scrutiny and increased regulation of pipelines recognizes the influence of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).  Although NTSB has no jurisdiction to regulate pipelines, the safety concerns raised by NTSB are always eventually acted on in subsequent rulemaking by PHMSA.  Former NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman gave testimony in  2010 before the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Hearing on The Safety of Hazardous Liquid Pipelines–Regulated versus Unregulated Pipelines detailed NTSB’s continuing concerns about the regulation of low-stress pipeline systems including gathering lines.  Ms. Hersman’s testimony included details from two fatal incidents occurring on two unregulated pipelines in Texas. Both incidents resulted from excavation damage when third parties hit unmarked pipelines.

PHMSA responded with two Advanced Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRMs); Pipeline Safety: Safety of On-Shore Hazardous Liquid Pipelines,” published in the Federal Register in October of 2010 and “Pipeline Safety: Safety of Gas Transmission Pipelines” published in August of 2011 on safety issues and data collection needs.

Congress also responded to NTSB’s concerns by requiring PHMSA to conduct a review of existing state and federal regulations for gas and hazardous liquid gathering lines.  This was one of many studies required underThe Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011.  PHMSA was required to submit a report of the review and recommendations to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and the Committee on Energy and Commerce of the House of Representatives, and the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate.

PHMSA released its study to Congress on May 8, 2015. It should come as no surprise that based on the study, PHMSA reports considering the need to propose new regulations of natural gas and hazardous liquid gathering lines and consider eliminating existing exemptions from Federal regulations using risk-based assessment and prioritization.