House Committee Ups DWSRF Authorization Levels; BP Spill Produces Pressure For Pipeline Safety Revisions

July 2010 Vol. 65 No. 7

Gary Sypolt, chief executive officer at Dominion Energy, who testified on behalf of INGAA, noted that the association had presented considerable evidence supporting removal of the seven-year re-inspection requirement and its replacement with a "risk-based" standard, a revision supported by the Bush administration and also independent federal watchdogs such as the Government Accountability Office. Both Democrats and Republicans on the subcommittee asked Quarterman about the Obama administration's view of this proposed change. Under repeated questioning, Quarterman first danced around the question, then retreated, finally stating that "the administration has no plans" to change the seven-year re-inspection requirement.

Two other issues of interest came up during the hearings. Asked about PHMSA's working relationship with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Quarterman said it "could be improved." She wasn't quite clear about what the problems are, but she added, "We would like to be more involved" in pipeline construction approvals. She noted that she had so far been unsuccessful with getting a meeting with FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff.

There were also a number of questions of PHMSA's granting of "special permits" from the pipeline safety laws for certain pipelines. Quarterman said 85 have been issued since 2009, when PHMSA finalized a rule with guidelines for applying and approving those special permits, and another 31 are pending. Rep. Betsy Markey (D-CO), was among those asking questions about a special permit granted TransCanada for its 2,000-mile Keystone hazardous liquids pipeline which starts in Alberta and travels south to the Gulf of Mexico. TransCanada has filed a request for a Special Permit from PHMSA seeking approval to design and operate portions of the proposed pipeline utilizing a .80 design factor.