The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill on October 17th  intended to strengthen federal safety regulation of oil and gas pipelines.  The bill, known as the Pipeline Transportation Safety Improvement Act, includes the following provisions to address safety concerns:

  • Requires strength-testing for previously untested natural gas transmission pipelines in high-population areas that operate at high pressure.
  • Requires pipeline operators to verify their records to confirm the pipelines’ physical and operational characteristics and their established maximum allowable operating pressure;
  • Authorizes additional pipeline inspectors and pipeline safety support employees through a phased-in increase over four years;
  • Requires pipeline operators to report all maximum allowable operating pressure exceedances to the Department of Transportation;
  • Increases the cap on civil penalties for violators of pipeline regulations and adds civil penalties for obstructing investigations;
  • Requires installation of automatic or remote-control shut-off valves on new pipelines;
  • Requires the Secretary to prescribe regulations that establish time limits on accident and leak notifications by pipeline operators to local and state government officials and emergency responders;
  • Increases public availability of pipeline information, inspections and standards by requiring that this information be made available online;
  • Sets more stringent standards on state “One-Call” systems by eliminating all exemptions given to local and state government agencies and their contractors on notifying “One-Call” centers before digging; and
  • Permits expansion of excess flow valve requirements to include multi-family buildings and small commercial facilities.

Similar legislation is being considered in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bill’s passage follows the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration’s (PHMSA) August 25, 2011,  Federal Register publication of an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) (76 Fed. Reg. 53,086) regarding changes to the regulations for the safety of gas transmission pipelines (49 CFR Parts 190-199).  The ANPRM requests comments on 15 specific topic areas that fall into two broad categories: revising and strengthening integrity management (IM) requirements and  strengthening or expanding non-IM requirements.

PHMSA offed as justification for the ANPRM that events such as the pipeline rupture in San Bruno, California in September 2010 and concerns encountered during inspections of IM programs have indicated a possible need for pipeline safety improvement.  Comments on the ANPRM are due by December 2, 2011.

Question and topics raised in the ANPRM include the following:

  1. Should IM requirements be revised and strengthened to bring more pipeline mileage under IM requirements and to better assure safety of pipeline segments in high consequence areas (HCAs)? Specific questions are presented regarding the following topics:
    1. Modifying the definition of an HCA.
    2. Strengthening the Integrity Management requirements in part 192.
    3. Modifying repair criteria.
    4. Revising the requirements for collecting, validating, and integrating pipeline data.
    5. Making requirements related to the nature and application of risk models more prescriptive.
    6. Strengthening requirements for applying knowledge gained through the IM program.
    7. Strengthening requirements on the selection and use of assessment methods, including prescribing assessment methods for certain threats (such as manufacturing and construction defects, SCC, etc.) or in situations such as when certain knowledge is not available or data is missing.
  2. Should non-IM requirements be strengthened or expanded to address other issues associated with pipeline system integrity? PHMSA seeks comments on the following topics:
    1. Valve spacing and the need for remotely- or automatically-controlled valves.
    2. Corrosion control.
    3. Systemic integrity issues on pipe with longitudinal weld seams.
    4. Establishing requirements applicable to underground gas storage.
    5. Management of Change (MOC) process.
    6. Quality Management Systems (QMS).
    7. Exemptions applicable to facilities installed prior to the regulations.
    8. Gathering lines.

A copy of the ANPRM is available at http://www.phmsa.dot.gov/pipeline.