On January 23, 2017, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) amended its pipeline safety regulations to address the requirements of the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011. The final rule affects post-accident reporting obligations, safety training requirements, and permitting procedures. The major provisions of the new pipeline safety rule include:
- Accident and Incident Notification. Pipeline operators are now required to provide notice of an accident or incident within 1 hour of confirmed discovery. Within 48 hours of the confirmed discovery, the operator must revise or confirm its initial notice with an estimate of the amount released, location of the failure, time of the failure, and an estimate of the damages.
- Notification Events. PHMSA expanded the list of events that require electronic notification to include (1) reversal of product flow through a pipeline that is expected to last more than 30 days, (2) changes in the product flowing through a pipeline, and (3) replacement of more than 10 miles of pipeline. All notifications must be received at least 60 days before these events take place.
- Drug and Alcohol Testing. PHMSA now requires drug and alcohol testing of employees whose performance either contributed to an accident or cannot be completely discounted as a contributing factor to an accident. Operators are also required to keep records explaining why post-accident drug and alcohol tests were not conducted for at least 3 years.
- Control Room Staff Training. PHMSA extended operator qualification requirements to control center staff involved in pipeline operational decisions. Team training is also required for control center staff involved in pipeline operations.
- Special Permit Renewal. Under the new rule, applicants must submit completed applications to renew special permits at least 180 days before the existing permit is set to expire. This ensures the special permit will not expire until final administrative action on the renewal application has been taken.
- Confidential Commercial Information. To request protection of confidential commercial information, operators may mark confidential on each page of the document they wish to keep confidential or send PHMSA a second copy of the original document with the confidential information deleted. Operators must also attach an explanation of why the information qualifies as confidential.
- Pipeline Assessment Tools. Each new pipeline must be designed to accommodate the passage of an In-Line Inspection tool. This includes the replacement of pipes, valves, fittings and other line components.
These changes are scheduled to go into effect on March 24, 2017. The rule did not appear to be delayed by the regulatory freeze on new rules issued by the new Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus. It is not clear yet whether the new rule will be otherwise impacted by the new administration.