INGAA Locks Horns with PHMSA

March 2011, Vol. 66 No. 3

The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA) has locked horns with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) over the agency's advisory bulletin on pipeline safety.

PHMSA sent out that bulletin as the result of a recommendation from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), following preliminary findings from an investigation of the explosion of a Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) gas pipeline last year. Seven people died in the explosion near San Bruno, CA.

In a Jan. 31, 2011, letter to top PHMSA safety official Jeff Wiese, INGAA President Don Santa, wrote, "We are concerned, however, that the advisory bulletin could be read to countermand longstanding regulations and disturb what we understood to be mutual expectations concerning the implementation of integrity management programs on natural gas transmission pipelines."

Santa argued, "The advisory bulletin is overly broad and could be read to require operators to review vast amounts of data unrelated to cases where records were used to determine a segment’s MAOP."

The PHMSA advisory bulletin issued in early January urged pipelines to be absolutely sure that the data they used to calculate Maximum Allowable Operating Pressure (MAOP) was accurate. In the PG&E case, the NTSB found that although the company's records indicated that the pipeline in the area of the rupture was constructed of seamless pipe, it was instead, at least in part, constructed of longitudinal seam-welded pipe. In addition, some of the seams of this section of pipeline were welded from both the inside and the outside of the pipe, while others were welded only from the outside.

Santa also took issue with the advisory bulletin's reference to taking "defects" into account when establishing MAOP. Santa argued that "stable" defects can be disregarded under the gas transmission integrity management program. "INGAA assumes PHMSA did not intend the advisory bulletin to countermand existing regulations or to impose additional regulatory requirements," Santa wrote. "Yet several passages in the advisory bulletin, particularly those referring to activities operators 'must' undertake, lend themselves to troublesome interpretations."