November 19, 2015 § Leave a comment
It’s reauthorization time again. Every 4 years, chapter 49 of the code of federal regulations governing pipeline safety comes up for review. This includes authorization of appropriations to fund the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and reauthorization of agency’s mandate to promulgate and enforce pipeline safety regulations. The last version, currently in effect, is the the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011. (Note: Many regulations passed in that time frame included the phrase “job creation.” The regulations certainly did not foster job growth. Given the Obama administration’s stance against building more infrastructure, exploration, and exporting, there can be no claim of job creation in 2015…the only jobs expanding are government inspectors.)
The new bill, titled ‘‘Securing America’s Future Energy: Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act’’ or the ‘‘SAFE PIPES Act’’ was introduced Senators Deb Fischer (NE) and Cory Booker (NJ). As expected, the focus is on aging infrastructure, review (and expansion) of integrity management and security. In the area of environmental protection, the bill would amend the regulations to explicitly state that the Great Lakes are a USA ecological resource (as defined in section 195.6(b)) for purposes of determining whether a pipeline is in a high consequence area. The bill would also streamline hiring practices for PHMSA to fast track bringing on more inspectors. Read the full bill here.
July 8, 2015 § Leave a comment
In the wake of the recent Plains All American Pipeline (“Plains”) release, the U.S. House subcommittee on Energy & Power has issued a lengthy information request to Plains, and announced an upcoming hearing on Pipeline Safety Issues. The hearing will cover the progress of the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act of 2011, with focus on seventeen Congressional mandates that have not yet been implemented by PHMSA. The hearing will be held on Tuesday, July 14, 2015, at 10:15 a.m. in 2123 Rayburn House Office Building. The hearing webcast will be available at http://energycommerce.house.gov.
On May 19, crude oil was released from Plains’ 24-inch pipeline from Las Flores to Gaviota, located in Santa Barbara County, California. The company’s substantial cleanup efforts began quickly and the company reports that more than 95 percent of shoreline cleanup is complete, and all beaches, except Refugio State Beach, are open to the public.
March 12, 2015 § Leave a comment
On March 11, 2015, The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a Final Rule that amends several Part 195 and 192 regulations. This final rule is the culmination of rulemaking that began with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in 2011. The regulatory provisions impacted include but are not limited to post-construction inspections, welding, gas component pressure testing requirements, and calculating pressure reductions for immediate repairs on liquid pipelines. In total 16 rules were proposed in 2011. The notice and comment period included significant comments from stakeholders, including industry, resulting in 7 of the proposed rules being modified, and 3 withdrawn for further consideration and study. 6 of the proposed rules were codified as written.
The most controversial of the proposed rules involved post-construction compliance inspections. PHMSA had originally proposed that third party inspectors, independent from the construction contractors, were required to perform post-construction inspection. The codified version clarifies that personnel involved in different construction project tasks may also perform inspections of other construction tasks, so long as they do not inspect the specific tasks they performed during construction.
The complete Final Rule was published in the Federal Register, and can be viewed online.
May 27, 2014 § Leave a comment
On Friday, May 23, 2014, leading into the Memorial Holiday weekend, the White House published its semiannual regulatory agenda (Unified Agenda) describing its plans for approximately 60 departments, agencies, and commissions across the federal government. Marking the fourth consecutive time the Obama administration has decided to slide its regulatory agenda under the door on the eve of a major federal holiday, the approach is becoming predictable.
According to the published agenda the following items impacting natural gas and oil transportation by pipelines and oil by rail are slated for this summer:
- A proposed rule by PHMSA to require excess flow valves on natural gas pipelines running through buildings beside single-family homes is slated for August 2014. The excess flow valve issue has been a focus of NTSB and Congress since the 2010 San Bruno explosion.
- PHMSA is scheduled to release a broad reassessment of hazardous liquid pipeline safety regulation, including rules regarding leak detection in July 2014. This was called for in the Pipeline Safety Act reauthorization in 2011.
- PHMSA plans to formally propose new crude-by-rail safety standards in July 2014. It is no surprise that new rules for tank cars are coming; how strict the standards advanced by the administration is yet to be revealed. Look for more information here when the rulemaking process begins.
A complete list from the Unified Agenda for the Department of Transportation can be found here:
May 25, 2014 § Leave a comment
The Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials held a hearing on May 20, 2014 to review the 2011 Act. The hearing was opened with remarks by Chairman Jeff Denham (R-CA), who stressed the importance of a risk-based approach to pipeline safety driven by private investment. “We believe in a risk-based, data-driven approach to pipeline safety that focuses private investment in pipeline safety on those areas of higher risk. As PHMSA develops rules to implement the mandates contained in the 2011 act, it is critically important that we must provide regulatory certainly necessary for pipeline owners and operators to plan infrastructure investments, and do so with input from the safety community and industry.”
May 24, 2014 § Leave a comment
A proposed provision to double penalties for pipeline safety violations failed to advance with Ohio Mid-Biennium Budget legislation. Ohio House Bill 483 had a provision to double penalties for safety violations when introduced in March. However, the version passed by the Ohio House of Representatives last month eliminated that section. Under current law, fines for each violation can range up to $100,000 per day, with a $1 million cap. The Ohio Senate passed the bill on May 21, 2014.
May 24, 2014 § Leave a comment
On May 20, 2014, The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and U.S. Coast Guard issued a joint Safety Alert strongly recommending that leaseholders/operators consider Coast Guard recommendations for dynamic positioning vessels when evaluating potential hazards and establishing and implementing contractor safe work practices in their SEMS program. The Safety Alert was issued in response to an incident where an equipment failure, an operational error and multiple failure modes not identified in a vessel’s Failure Modes and Effects Analysis combined resulting in loss of position. The crew performed an emergency disconnect from the well avoiding injury and environmental impacts.