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.

Continue Reading Update: U.S. Supreme Court Allows Use of NWP 12

The U.S. District Court for Montana amended and narrowed its April 15, 2020 order yesterday vacating Nationwide Permit (NWP) 12, which authorizes minimal impacts from “utility line activities” to jurisdictional waters.  Despite the case centering on the Keystone XL Pipeline, as previously reported, the court’s April 15 order vacated NWP 12 nationwide for all activities (including pipelines, broadband, electric, water and sewer) until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) consults with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (Services) pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Nearly a month later, the court amended the vacatur’s applicability by limiting it to the construction of new oil and gas pipelines, pending completion of the consultation process and compliance with all environmental statutes and regulations.  Under the amended order, the Corps may continue to authorize the use of NWP 12 for “maintenance, inspection, and repair activities” on existing projects, including existing pipelines, as well as non-pipeline construction activities (e.g., broadband, electric, water, and sewer).
Continue Reading Court Limits Nationwide Permit 12 Vacatur to New Oil and Gas Pipeline Construction

In light of its recent decision in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, the Supreme Court of the United States has instructed the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to revisit its decision in Upstate Forever v. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, L.P. On remand, the Fourth Circuit will be the first lower court to apply the Supreme Court’s new “functional equivalent” standard to determine whether the Clean Water Act (CWA) requires a permit when pollutants originate from a point source but are conveyed to navigable waters by a nonpoint source, such as groundwater. Under this “functional equivalent” standard, courts must consider a variety of factors to determine whether a release constitutes a “discharge of any pollutant” as defined by the CWA, including: (1) transit time, (2) distance traveled, (3) the amount of pollutant entering the navigable waters relative to the amount of the pollutant that leaves the point source, (4) the manner by or area in which the pollutant enters the navigable waters, and (5) the degree to which the pollution (at that point) has maintained its specific identity. As we discussed in detail on a previous post, it is unclear how lower courts will apply these subjective factors, and notably this initial case will be applying the standard specifically in the context of pipelines.

Continue Reading Fourth Circuit Firsts: First to Apply Maui Test and First to Determine CWA Applicability to Pipelines

PHMSA is proposing regulatory reform changes to the federal pipeline safety regulations at 49 CFR 190, 194, and 195, predominantly impacting liquid pipelines. Consistent with the Administration’s directives, the proposed revisions are intended to reduce regulatory burdens and improve regulatory clarity, without compromising safety and environmental protection. The proposed revisions were published in the Federal Register on April 16, 2020 and comments are due by June 15, 2020. These proposed changes would clarify and revise the requirements for how operators submit records to PHMSA; make important clarifications to the scope of pipelines that would require oil spill response plans; and, specific to liquid pipelines, substantially increase the property damage incident reporting threshold, allow remote monitoring of rectifier stations, and clarify integrity management guidance.

Continue Reading PHMSA Proposes Regulatory Reform Rule

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 coronavirus is causing marked disruption in the U.S., with increasing impacts across the country. Pipeline, terminal and LNG facilities are no exception, and many operators have been reviewing or implementing their contingency and emergency response plans. The current situation falls outside of most existing plans, however. With staffing concerns, travel limitations and other unforeseen issues, we expect operators will be presented with some challenges in the coming weeks in meeting all pipeline and LNG safety legal requirements. For example, we expect there may be issues with maintaining sufficient adequately trained and qualified staff for control rooms or field positions responsible for inspection and maintenance.

Continue Reading Oil and Gas Preparedness and Contingency Planning in the Wake of COVID-19

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recently finalized an Annex to a longstanding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding pipeline safety and security. This Annex comes just weeks after a publicized natural gas pipeline cybersecurity intrusion and responds to several recommendations from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) discussed in our earlier alert to update the prior Annex which had not been reviewed or revised since its inception over 14 years ago. The updated Annex emphasizes information-sharing and coordination between the agencies and signals that the agencies are moving forward on satisfying outstanding GAO recommendations. While this is a step in the right direction, questions remain whether TSA is the appropriate agency to oversee pipeline security and whether existing voluntary standards should be mandatory.

Continue Reading As Cyberthreats Continue, PHMSA and TSA MOU Stresses Information Sharing and Coordination

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

PHMSA recently finalized a rule that significantly revises certain aspects of liquid pipeline safety regulation under 49 CFR Part 195.  Nearly nine years in the making, the final rule is intended to address PHMSA and NTSB accident investigation findings from the Marshall Michigan spill in 2010 as well as 2011 and 2016 outstanding Congressional mandates and GAO recommendations.  A version of this rule was initially scheduled for publication in the Federal Register in the last week of the prior presidential administration in 2017.  It was held back as a result of the regulatory freeze and subsequent deregulatory review by the Trump administration which pared down certain changes in the recent final rule.

Continue Reading Final Rule Imposes Expansive New Requirements for Liquid Pipelines

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