The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) on May 28, 2020, issued a pre-publication Notice of Proposed Rulemaking titled Gas Pipeline Regulatory Reform.  The proposal is issued pursuant to the Administration’s executive orders directing federal agencies to reduce burdens and in response to comments from the industry.  In keeping with that intent, the proposed changes appear generally favorable to the gas pipeline industry and should ease certain regulatory burdens related to discrete areas of gas pipeline incident reporting, construction (welding requalification), operation (primarily distribution and plastic pipelines), and maintenance (rectifier inspections and low-pressure pipelines).

Below is a summary of the major topics addressed in the NPRM.  Comments will be due sixty (60) days from publication in the federal register.

Incident Reporting Threshold

Perhaps the most meaningful proposal in the NPRM applicable to all gas pipelines is the expansion of the property damage threshold associated with a reportable “incident” in § 191.3.  To account for inflation, PHMSA proposes to raise the existing $50,000 threshold to $122,000.  The current property damage threshold has not changed since the adoption of the provision in the 1980s.  If adopted as final, pipeline operators would no longer have to report smaller incidents that cause property damage below the threshold.

Remote Monitoring of Rectifier Stations

Applicable to all regulated gas pipelines, PHMSA proposes to clarify that under § 192.465(b), operators may inspect rectifier stations – devices that run electric current along the pipeline to prevent corrosion – directly onsite or through remote monitoring technologies.  Operators who monitor rectifiers remotely would have to physically inspect them whenever they conduct a cathodic protect test under § 192.465(a).  A similar revision for hazardous liquid pipelines is being considered in a separate rulemaking.

Relief for Distribution Pipelines

Several of the proposed changes focus on distribution lines.  First, the proposal would allow operators of farm taps[1] to choose between conducting pressure regulator inspections under either their distribution integrity management plan (DIMP) or under the existing § 192.740 rule which requires inspections and testing at least once every 3 calendar years.  A 2017 rulemaking exempted farm taps from DIMP programs and revised § 192.740 to require regular inspections.  In practice, certain operators preferred to manage farm tap under their DIMP programs.  The current proposal would provide that as an option in lieu of § 192.740.

Second, PHMSA proposes to relieve distribution line operators from the requirement to submit mechanical fittings failure (MFF) reports through DOT Form PHMSA F-7100.1-2.  Instead, PHMSA will add MFF reporting to gas distribution annual reports.[2]

Third, PHMSA proposes to establish a separate atmospheric corrosion reassessment interval for gas distribution service lines.  Specifically, PHMSA proposes to expand the interval under which operators must conduct inspections from once every 3 years to once every 5 calendar years.  If an operator identifies atmospheric corrosion during an inspection, however, the requirement reverts back to once every 3 years, until no corrosion is identified.

Other Proposals

Additional proposed changes relate to the following:

  • Pressure vessels: lowering test factors for pressure vessels consistent with ASME Boiler Pressure Vessel Code.
  • Welder requalification: lowering welder requalification requirements that would likely prove beneficial for welders who weld relatively infrequently.
  • Pre-test applicability for low-stress pipelines: allowing certain low-stress pipelines to rely on pre-construction tests under § 192.505(d) instead of conducting a post-installation test, which may prove especially helpful for maintenance and repair activities.
  • Plastic pipe: incorporating ASTM standards related to Polyethylene (PE), including 2018 edition of ASTM D2513, “Standard Specification for Polyethylene (PE) Gas Pressure Pipe, Tubing, and Fittings;” 2019 edition of ASTM F2620, “Standard Practice for Heat Fusion Joining of Polyethylene Pipe and Fittings;” and 2019 edition of ASTM F2620, “Standard Practice for Heat Fusion Joining of Polyethylene Pipe and Fittings.”  PHMSA also proposes to raise the diameter limit for using design factor of 0.4 PE pipe from 12 inches to 24 inches and make other clarifications to the plastic pipe rules under Part 192.

The proposal appears to be generally favorable to the industry and provides flexibility to gas pipeline operators in certain discrete areas.  With respect to oil pipeline regulations, PHMSA already issued a regulatory reform proposal and comments are due on June 15, 2020.  That proposal addresses oil pipeline regulations as well as Part 190 regulations applicable to oil and gas pipelines and LNG pipeline facilities.


[1] A “farm tap” is the common name for an individual gas service line directly connected to a gas transmission, production, or gathering pipeline.

[2] PHMSA clarifies that the requirement to report MFFs that qualify as incidents per 49 C.F.R. Part 191 remains in place.

Print:
EmailTweetLikeLinkedIn
Photo of Catherine D. Little Catherine D. Little

Catherine Little has been advising oil and gas pipelines, terminals and LNG facilities on energy and environmental administrative law for over 25 years at all levels of federal, state and local government, with particular emphasis on regulatory compliance, litigation and enforcement defense and…

Catherine Little has been advising oil and gas pipelines, terminals and LNG facilities on energy and environmental administrative law for over 25 years at all levels of federal, state and local government, with particular emphasis on regulatory compliance, litigation and enforcement defense and administrative adjudication under the Pipeline Safety Act, Natural Gas Act, Clean Water Act (including wetlands), Oil Pollution Act and National Environmental Policy Act. Her team has sought appellate review for enforcement matters with favorable results and works closely with industry and regulators alike to obtain favorable results for their clients. Catherine also regularly counsels clients with respect to pipeline construction and design issues, permitting, confidential investigations, spill and release reporting and response.

Photo of Annie M. Cook Annie M. Cook

Annie Cook’s practice focuses on administrative, environmental, and oil and gas transportation laws. Annie counsels clients on regulatory issues, compliance and litigation strategy, construction and siting, and permitting and enforcement defense relating to the Pipeline Safety Act, the Natural Gas Act, the Clean…

Annie Cook’s practice focuses on administrative, environmental, and oil and gas transportation laws. Annie counsels clients on regulatory issues, compliance and litigation strategy, construction and siting, and permitting and enforcement defense relating to the Pipeline Safety Act, the Natural Gas Act, the Clean Water Act, the Oil Pollution Act, National Environment Policy Act, TCSA, and related state and local laws.  Her team also represents clients regarding related transportation security issues and in responding to inquiries and investigations from the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General. Annie’s clients include owners and operators of oil and natural gas pipeline and related storage, terminal, and LNG facilities as well as other energy industry stakeholders.

Photo of Viktoriia De Las Casas Viktoriia De Las Casas

Viktoriia assists clients in complying with environmental laws and regulations, including permitting and strategizing on implementation of environmental requirements. She also represents them in litigation matters and advises on various aspects of environmental due diligence. Her practice encompasses all of the major environmental…

Viktoriia assists clients in complying with environmental laws and regulations, including permitting and strategizing on implementation of environmental requirements. She also represents them in litigation matters and advises on various aspects of environmental due diligence. Her practice encompasses all of the major environmental statutes, including the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, Clean Air Act, Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, and corresponding regulations.