Potential Impact Of New Pipeline Safety Laws On PHMSA’s Regulatory Initiatives

By Susan A. Olenchuk, James B. Curry and Katie E. Leesman, Washington, DC | April 2012, Vol. 239 No. 4

On Jan. 3, President Obama signed the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 (2011 Act) (H.R. 2845, Public Law 112-90, 125 Stat. 1904). The 2011 Act significantly amended existing pipeline safety laws and authorized the appropriation of funds to support the pipeline safety activities of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration (PHMSA) through 2015.

Many of the amendments were in response to high-profile pipeline accidents in 2010 and early 2011 that caused Congress to conclude that tougher requirements are or may be needed to ensure the safety of the nation’s 2.4 million miles of pipeline infrastructure.

In July 2010, a hazardous liquid pipeline ruptured near Marshal, MI releasing an estimated 819,000 gallons of crude oil into the environment, including the local creek and downstream river. The incident raised concerns about the effectiveness of PHMSA’s integrity management (IM) regulations for hazardous liquid pipelines and the ability of operators to effectively detect and stop the discharge of hazardous liquid following a rupture.

In September 2010, a gas transmission line ruptured in San Bruno, CA resulting in multiple fatalities and extensive property damage. The incident raised a number of issues regarding PHMSA’s safety regulations for gas transmission pipelines, including the effectiveness of PHMSA’s IM regulations, the ability of operators to stop the flow of gas during a rupture, and the accuracy of records regarding the physical and operational characteristics of buried transmission pipelines.

The 2011 Act affects operators of all types of facilities and requires that PHMSA re-examine many of its regulations, and - as appropriate - revise, expand, and strengthen them. Key provisions affecting hazardous liquid and gas pipelines address the possible expansion of IM requirements, establishment of standards for leak detection systems, expanded use of automatic or remote controlled valves, and the verification of gas pipeline records, including those in support of maximum allowable operating pressure (MAOP).

Even before the passage of the 2011 Act, PHMSA was considering these and other issues and had begun comprehensive reviews of its regulations. In two Advance Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM), PHMSA sought public comment on the appropriateness of numerous changes to gas and hazardous liquid safety regulations. These ANPRMs will likely lead to stronger pipeline safety regulations.

This article examines how the 2011 Act might affect some of the regulatory initiatives addressed in those ANPRMs.