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).

Continue Reading PHMSA Issues Gas Pipeline Regulatory Reform Proposal

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

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

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

On October 1, 2019, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA or the Agency) issued three long awaited final rules.  This post addresses the Agency’s final rule on Emergency Orders, a significant new tool in PHMSA’s pipeline safety enforcement tool box that can be issued to the entire industry or portion of the industry.  Alerts on the other two rulemakings are forthcoming (i.e., the first of three final rules regarding natural gas pipelines and amendments to the liquid pipeline rules).

Continue Reading PHMSA Updates its Latest Enforcement Tool: Emergency Order Final Rule

On Friday, August 9, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) unveiled a pre-publication version of a notice of proposed rulemaking (“NOPR”) to clarify state water quality certification (“certification”) procedures under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) to allow for increased regulatory certainty in federal licensing and permitting activities, and particularly authorization of infrastructure projects.  

On July 24, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) published an invitation to comment on a preemption application submitted by the States of North Dakota and Montana.  The States’ application asks PHMSA to override vapor pressure limits for crude by rail imposed by the State of Washington.  New Washington law, which became effective on July 28, 2019, prohibits loading or unloading crude oil from a rail car unless the vapor pressure is lower than nine pounds per square inch.  The law also requires facilities receiving crude by rail to provide “advance notice” of the “type” and “vapor pressure” of the crude.  According to North Dakota and Montana, the new law effectively targets Bakken crude—thought by some to be more volatile—and should be preempted by the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act, which PHMSA administers.
Continue Reading Vapor Pressure Remains a Volatile Topic