Just as global leaders convened in Glasgow for COP26, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a prepublication copy of its new rule (Final Rule) on November 2, 2021 that significantly expands reporting and safety requirements for operators of gas gathering pipelines, including lines that were previously unregulated. This Final Rule, along with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed Clean Air Act rulemakings targeting the oil and gas sector issued the same day, serves to further demonstrate the Biden Administration’s overall commitment to action on climate change. The Final Rule requires operators to implement Part 192 requirements for certain newly regulated gas gathering lines located in Class 1 locations and requires Part 191 incident and annual reporting for all onshore gas gathering pipelines, regardless of location. These new requirements will significantly increase PHMSA’s oversight over more than 425,000 miles of previously unregulated onshore gas gathering lines.
* Meg Heyse is a 2021 summer associate at Troutman Pepper. She is not admitted to practice law.
In April 2021, the Department of Energy (DOE) launched a 100-day initiative to strengthen cybersecurity protections in the energy sector. Just one month later, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), an agency under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), issued Security Directive Pipeline 2021-1 (Security Directive or Directive) to implement — for the first time — mandatory requirements for certain pipeline operators with respect to cybersecurity. The Security Directive became effective the day it was issued on May 28, 2021. Although the Security Directive was issued in final, TSA is accepting public comments on the Directive and has indicated that it may amend the Directive based on those comments.
The Security Directive mandates that owners and operators of “critical” hazardous liquid and natural gas pipeline infrastructure comply with certain portions of the DOE’s April 2021 initiative. As defined by the Directive, “critical” pipeline facilities are those that have been previously identified by the TSA as critical pursuant to the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 and as outlined in TSA’s pipeline security guidelines. For these owners and operators, the Directive has three broad mandates. Continue Reading Mandatory Homeland Security Cybersecurity Directive
On January 11, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) finalized its June 2020 proposed rulemaking intended to reduce regulatory burdens and offer greater flexibility to gas pipeline operators, previously discussed in our post here. Pipeline operators may voluntarily comply with the rule starting on the effective date of March 12, 2021, but mandatory compliance is not required until October 1, 2021. Although the rule implements moderate changes to the pipeline safety regulations, given the timing of the final rule’s release, it is at least possible that the new administration could withdraw the rule.
PHMSA has finally published guidance to better delineate federal oversight of midstream processing facilities for public comment. The guidance, in the form of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), is intended to avoid gaps or overlaps in regulatory oversight of midstream facilities, particularly between PHMSA and OSHA. Comments are due by January 4, 2021. An example of the success of working groups where industry and agencies partner to provide additional regulatory clarity, the FAQs should — if finalized after notice and comment — provide more certainty to both regulated midstream processing operators and state and federal agencies.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (“PHMSA” or the “Agency”) published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM” or the “Proposed Rule”) that provides increased flexibility to gas transmission pipelines that experience a certain change in population surrounding the pipeline (from a Class 1 to Class 3 location). These changes have been the subject of numerous Special Permit approvals for some time, and the industry has long requested that PHMSA codify this process to avoid unnecessary pipe replacements of short segments. If finalized, the Proposed Rule would provide operators an alternative option to implement integrity management (“IM”) requirements to ensure that a pipe segment is subject to appropriate class location safety factors and thereby avoid unnecessary and costly pipe replacements or pressure reductions. Comments are due by December 14, 2020.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has issued two Advisory Bulletins directed to natural gas distribution pipeline owners and operators. PHMSA released the advisories in response to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendations arising out of two high-profile distribution pipeline incidents in Silver Spring, Maryland and Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts. The first advisory focuses on indoor meters and regulators to remind operators of the relevant regulatory requirements and risks. The second advisory covers low-pressure distribution systems, emphasizing the possibility of failures due to overpressurization.
On September 15, 2020, the United States Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) issued its “Proposal to Reissue and Modify Nationwide Permits” (Proposed Rule). Under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, the Corps issues nationwide permits (NWPs) that authorize activities that will result in no more than minimal individual and cumulative adverse environmental effects. These permits are designed to streamline the permitting process for certain activities, while also ensuring that jurisdictional waters are protected. Most significant to the oil and gas industry, the Corps proposes to (1) modify NWP 12 to be limited to the authorization of oil and natural gas pipeline activities, and (2) streamline and reduce pre-construction notice requirements for pipelines subject to NWP 12. The comment period under the proposed rule closes on November 16, 2020.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO), an agency that conducts audits, evaluations, and investigations for the United States Congress, issued a report titled “Natural Gas Exports: Updated Guidance and Regulations Could Improve Facility Permitting Processes.” The report examines several aspects of federal agencies’ regulation of liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities, but of most relevance to LNG operators is the finding that the technical standards that the primary regulators of LNG facilities incorporate into their rules are out of date.
On July 16, 2020, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) published its long-awaited final rule to amend its regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), introducing important changes to the 40-year-old review process. The statute requires federal agencies to take a “hard look” at the environmental impacts of certain proposed projects, but does not mandate any particular outcome. The final rule follows CEQ’s June 2018 Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANOPR) and the January 2020 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR), which we previously discussed here.
On July 6, 2020, the Supreme Court partially and temporarily overturned a nationwide injunction that prevented the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) from using Nationwide Permit 12 (“NWP 12”) for construction of new oil and gas pipelines. NWP 12 authorizes “utility line activities” that have minimal impacts on jurisdictional waters under the Clean Water Act. In April 2020, a federal judge in the District of Montana, while considering challenges to the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, completely vacated the Corps’ use of NWP 12 for all activities (including pipelines, broadband, electric, water, and sewer) until the Corps consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service pursuant to the Endangered Species Act. Nearly a month later, following a motion from the Corps seeking relief from that vacatur, the district court amended its April 2020 ruling to apply only to new oil and gas pipeline construction projects other than “maintenance, inspection, and repair activities” on existing pipelines.