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.
We are excited to introduce you to Troutman Pepper. Effective today, Troutman Sanders and Pepper Hamilton have merged to form a new law firm, Troutman Pepper (Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders LLP), with more than 1,100 attorneys in 23 cities across the country. The combination expands both the capabilities and the presence of the firm in the U.S., and notably brings additional resources to the combined firm’s Pipeline and LNG group in the Northeast, Midwest and West Coast.
The U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in the consolidated cases U.S. Forest Service v. Cowpasture River Preservation Assn. and Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC v. Cowpasture River Preservation Assn. addressing the U.S. Forest Service’s authority to issue authorization for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross beneath the Appalachian Trail. Reversing the Fourth Circuit’s December 2018 decision, the Court held that the Forest Service has authority under the Mineral Leasing Act to grant a right-of-way on lands within the George Washington National Forest owned by the Forest Service over which the trail crosses.
On June 9, 2020, FERC ordered amendments to its regulations to prohibit natural gas projects authorized under Sections 3 and 7 of the Natural Gas Act (“NGA”) from commencing construction activities until after (i) the deadline for filing a request for rehearing has lapsed without a request being filed, or (ii) FERC has acted upon the merits of any timely-filed request for rehearing (“Order No. 871”). The new regulation will become effective, without any opportunity to file comments, 30 days after the Final Rule is published in the Federal Register. Because FERC’s orders on rehearing sometimes take several months, and in some cases more than a year to be issued, both liquefied natural gas (“LNG”) and natural gas pipeline projects approved by FERC could be significantly delayed from commencing construction as a result of Order No. 871. Continue Reading FERC to Block LNG, Pipeline Project Construction Until After Rehearing Process is Complete