The 5th Circuit issued a lengthy opinion on August 14, 2017, reversing most of the violations of a PHMSA enforcement action that began in November 2013 in conjunction with investigation of a failure on the Pegasus Pipeline. In that matter, PHMSA alleged that the ExxonMobil Pipeline Company (EMPCo) failed to properly consider the risk of failure on a segment of pre-1970 low frequency electric resistance welded (LF-ERW) pipe. The Agency assessed a penalty of nearly $2.7 million for the various alleged violations. In a rare judicial decision regarding a PHMSA Final Order and Decision on Petition for Reconsideration, the Court reversed all but one of the items on appeal, and vacated the penalty associated with those alleged violations (dismissing over $1.6M of the total penalty). The Court remanded the one remaining item back to PHMSA for recalculation of the associated penalty.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report on August 4, 2017, titled “Pipeline Safety – Additional Actions Could Improve Federal Use of Data on Pipeline Materials and Corrosion.” The 55 page Report, prepared in response to a Congressional mandate in the 2016 Pipeline Safety Act reauthorization, summarizes pipeline materials, training and corrosion prevention technologies for gas and liquid pipeline facilities and analyzes PHMSA use of corrosion and material data to inform its inspection priorities. The Report recommends that PHMSA review, document and validate the way in which it identifies the highest risk pipelines for inspection, but makes no significant new findings, and the recommendations are largely consistent with initiatives that PHMSA already has begun.
The Report notes initially that pipelines carrying hazardous liquids or gas have the lowest incident rate of other transportation modes. For oil and gas pipelines from 2010 to 2015, GAO’s assessment of PHMSA incident data attaches the highest single cause as corrosion (22%), followed by “equipment failure” (21%), “natural or outside force” (16%) and “excavation damage” (14%). PHMSA tracks causal data somewhat differently, however, grouping “equipment failure” and “material/weld failures” together in a single category, which is reported by operators to be the largest cause of significant incidents in the past 5 years. By comparison, the GAO Report links corrosion (22%) with “material, pipe or weld failure” (12%), although it is a very different failure mechanism from corrosion, to be the estimated cause of nearly one-third of all oil and gas significant incidents.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recently published a notice inviting public comment to identify statutes, rules, regulations, and interpretations in policy statements or guidance that “unjustifiably delay or prevent completion of surface, maritime, and aviation transportation infrastructure projects.” As stated in the notice [attached], in keeping with President Trump’s regulatory reform agenda, DOT and other federal agencies are in the process of reviewing existing policy statements, guidance documents, and regulations that might pose impediments to transportation infrastructure projects. The upcoming deadline to provide input on that review is July 24, 2017. We encourage industry to consider submitting comments, particularly given DOT’s statement that comments are not restricted to burdensome regulations, but also extend to policy statements, interpretations and guidance.
Oil and gas discoveries in various shale plays around the U.S. over the past decade have led to an increased rise in the number of transfers and acquisitions of pipeline assets, including pipelines serving processing plants, producers, storage facilities, and those associated with power plants and other industrial users. Changes in global and domestic energy markets have continued that trend. Prudent operators routinely request and review documentation as part of their due diligence in making acquisitions, but it is becoming increasingly important that certain records be located during due diligence or factored into the transaction if such records are lacking and must be recreated. Decision makers involved in pipeline acquisitions should involve pipeline safety managers or counsel early on in the process to allow sufficient time to include pipeline safety records review as part of the transaction; to do otherwise can be a costly mistake that carries significant liability risk.
On December 19, 2016, PHMSA issued an interim final rule (IFR) to establish for the first time minimum federal safety standards for underground natural gas storage facilities. The rule was issued in response to the 2015 Aliso Canyon storage leak that lasted almost four months, and a subsequent Congressional mandate to issue federal standards for underground storage. Among other things, the IFR incorporated by reference (thereby making them mandatory) two American Petroleum Institute (API) Recommended Practices (RPs) regarding underground natural gas storage in salt caverns and reservoirs: (1) API RP 1170, “Design and Operation of Solution-mined Salt Caverns Used for Natural Gas Storage,” (July 2015); and (2) API RP 1171, “Functional Integrity of Natural Gas Storage in Depleted Hydrocarbon Reservoirs and Aquifer Reservoirs,” (Sept. 2015). API finalized both of those RPs in response to the Aliso Canyon incident.
As part of his regulatory reform agenda, President Donald Trump instructed federal agencies to review their regulations to identify requirements that burden businesses and industry. See EO 13771 and EO 13777. In order to comply with these directives, on June 8, 2017, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requested public comments to identify statutes, rules, regulations, and interpretations in policy statements or guidance “that unjustifiably delay or prevent completion of surface, maritime, and aviation transportation infrastructure projects.”
The Gas Pipeline Advisory Committee (GPAC) will meet [Notice of advisory committee meeting] in Washington, D.C. early next month to convene the second public meeting regarding PHMSA’s proposed gas rules, often referred to as the gas mega rule. The meetings will be focused on key proposed revisions to 49 C.F.R. Part 192 natural gas rules, including expanded integrity assessment requirements, revised integrity assessment and repair criteria, records, material documentation, corrosion control, and the integrity verification process (IVP) for segments that are currently grandfathered under the rules. The meetings are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, June 6-7, 2017, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
The Pipeline Safety Management System (SMS) industry standard API RP 1173 was published in July 2015 and developed by API with input from NTSB, PHMSA, states, and industry representatives, following the 2010 oil pipeline accident in Marshall, Michigan. The standard’s purpose is to help pipeline operators create a framework for developing a comprehensive, process-oriented approach to safety, emphasizing continual assessment and improvement. As the industry and other stakeholders reflect on the almost 2 years since publication of the standard, there are several important takeaways.
Since the Trump Administration took office, oil and gas industry stakeholders have questioned whether pending PHMSA rulemakings will move forward, whether the rate of PHMSA enforcement will continue, and whether agency priorities will change. The API conference held in San Antonio last week provided a rare opportunity in recent months for the industry to hear from key PHMSA personnel and industry practitioners on the status of agency priorities, rulemakings, enforcement and leadership vacancies. As explained below, while the Agency currently lacks key leadership positions and is analyzing executive directives on rulemaking, it intends to move forward with proposed rules and continue enforcement.
Industry trade groups anticipate construction delays and cancelations, higher costs, and consumer impacts if the Trump administration’s January 24, 2017 Executive Memorandum, requiring that all new and repaired pipe be made in the U.S., is implemented. In comments filed to the Department of Commence by oil and natural gas industry trade associations, INGAA, AGA, GPA, API, and AOPL, the associations point out numerous challenges presented by the directive and various exclusions and exceptions that would need to be carved out. At the same time, the trade groups committed to engaging with the executive branch, regulators, and steel manufacturers to promote job growth and affordable energy in the U.S. Continue Reading Industry Responds to U.S. Made Pipe Directive