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.

Continue Reading PHMSA Advisories Target Distribution Pipeline Meters and Overpressure Protection

In an effort to relieve the economic impact associated with the response to COVID-19, President Trump recently signed an Executive Order (EO) designed to promote economic recovery by reducing regulatory burdens for businesses. Under the EO, all federal agencies are directed to (1) review regulations and rescind, modify, waive, or provide exemptions to those regulations that may impair economic growth and (2) consider whether any of the temporary modifications or waivers should be permanently adopted through formal rulemaking. While the EO is intended to provide relief during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unclear whether it will have a tangible impact on enforcement of the federal pipeline safety or environmental laws for the oil and gas pipeline industry.
Continue Reading Executive Order Promotes Enforcement Discretion and Deregulation

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic understandably has strained available personnel and other resources as oil and gas pipeline operators focus on maintaining their essential operations. For the gas industry, the pandemic comes at a time that coincides with the initial deadlines associated with the first installment of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s gas “mega” rule, July 1, 2020. In order to provide gas operators with further flexibility due to constrained resources, PHMSA announced a 6-month stay of enforcement of initial Part 192 compliance deadlines in the rule, “if a regulated entity fails to meet such requirement by Dec. 31, 2020, for reasons attributable to the [COVID-19] National Emergency.”

Continue Reading Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic Prompts Gas Pipeline Enforcement Stay

Under the Clean Air Act, a facility that emits air pollutants may not be constructed unless an air permit has been issued to the facility. For decades, EPA has interpreted the statute to prohibit almost any construction or modification activities until a permitting authority issues a final permit. But on March 25, 2020, EPA proposed new guidance to clarify that, according to regulations adopted 40 years ago, the only construction prohibited prior to issuance of an air permit is construction on the emitting unit itself. If adopted by state permitting authorities, this guidance should provide companies, such as pipeline project proponents, with more flexibility by allowing more construction activities pre-permit. That said, project proponents should carefully consider the risks associated with initiating construction prior to receiving an air permit.

Continue Reading EPA Shifts Policy on Construction Prior to an Air Permit

The onset of the public health crisis caused by the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) has led to a global shortage of hand sanitizer. Businesses attempting to cope with new challenges presented by COVID-19 may be interested in retooling current manufacturing or other processes to begin developing hand sanitizer for external distribution or even internal use. In support of these efforts, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued guidance for both companies that are not currently authorized by the FDA to manufacture hand sanitizer companies and pharmacists in state-licensed, federal, or registered outsourcing facilities compounders that may be interested in producing hand sanitizer. Companies that adhere to this guidance and maintain sufficient documentation should be able to manufacture hand sanitizer for external distribution or internal use without enforcement exposure from the FDA.

Continue Reading FDA Authorizes Temporary Production of Hand Sanitizer

Over the past week and in just the last 24 hours, several federal and state agencies have issued guidance documents and orders impacting the oil and gas pipeline industry. Through this guidance and other orders, federal and state governments are recognizing the oil and gas industry as critical to responding to COVID-19, while at the same time providing for some flexibility in the likelihood that operators will face resource and staffing constraints in executing their pipeline safety compliance obligations.

Continue Reading COVID-19 Oil and Gas Update – Agencies Provide Limited Enforcement Discretion and Confirm Infrastructure as Essential

The current Administration has focused on reforming federal administrative agency enforcement by emphasizing transparency, due process, and fair notice. The concepts of due process and fair notice are well-established legal precepts, and they are critical to the regulated community. For a variety of reasons, however, administrative agencies may not be consistently adhering to these obligations in practice. Efforts that began with Executive Orders last year continue in 2020 with a recent Office of Management and Budget (OMB) request for comments on improving enforcement processes. Oil and gas industry trade groups and individual operators should take advantage of the OMB’s request for comments to improve enforcement processes at many federal agencies, including the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Comments are due by March 16, 2020.

Continue Reading Administrative Enforcement Reforms Continue

On January 10, 2020, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) published the long-awaited proposed rule to amend its regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). The statute, sometimes pejoratively referred to as a “paper-tiger,” requires a federal agency to take a hard look at the environmental impacts of certain proposed projects, but does not mandate any particular outcome.

Continue Reading Council on Environmental Quality Proposes Long-Awaited NEPA Regulations Overhaul

Tomorrow’s Federal Register will include three final rules published by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) that have been years in the making:  (1) Safety of Gas Transmission Pipelines: Maximum Allowable Operating Pressure Reconfirmation, Expansion of Assessment Requirements, and Other Related Amendments; (2) Safety of Hazardous Liquid Pipelines; and (3) Enhanced Emergency Order Procedures.  All three rules have been lingering at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review for at least several months, and probably none have been more anticipated than the gas transmission and liquid pipeline rules.

Continue Reading PHMSA Publishes Long-Awaited Final Rules

FERC’s consideration of indirect environmental impacts of the projects it certifies has been heavily debated as the concerns over climate change increase.  Both the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Natural Gas Act (NGA) require that FERC consider how an interstate natural gas pipeline directly and indirectly affects the human environment.  Although consideration of direct impacts may be a less controversial topic, FERC’s approach with respect to indirect impacts[1] has proven to be more complex.  It is particularly relevant in light of the Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ’s) June 2019 proposed guidance, directing how federal agencies should assess project-related greenhouse gas emissions, discussed in detail here and here.  The guidance suggest that FERC should employ a “rule of reason” when considering impacts of greenhouse gas emissions and if FERC lacks adequate information about these emissions, it does not need to quantify them.  This recommended approach, however, seems to conflict with how the D.C. Circuit interpreted FERC’s duty in analyzing greenhouse gas and other indirect emissions in its earlier June 2019 decision Birckhead v. FERC, USCA Case No. 18-1218 (D.C. Cir. 2019). 
Continue Reading D.C. Circuit Suggests FERC Should Try to Quantify Indirect Environmental Impacts of Pipeline Projects