Integrity Management Expansion Stirs Controversy In Congress

November 2011, Vol. 66 No. 11

In the Senate, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), the Senate Majority Leader, wants to bring S. 275 up under what is called the suspension calendar, which requires a bill to be passed by unanimous consent. There is no debate. Paul wants the Senate pipeline safety bill to be the subject of floor debate.

In addition to the expansion of integrity management requirements, the two House bills differ on the issue of maximum allowable operating pressure (MAOP). The E&C bill contains provisions on MAOP which was an issue in the San Bruno, CA, accident. The bill requires PHMSA within six months to require pipelines to verify MAOP for pipelines running through HCAs. Any pressures exceeding the build-up allowed for operation of pressure-limiting or control devices would have to be reported to PHMSA within five working days of the incident. There would be other MAOP requirements as well. The T&I bill includes no provisions on MAOP. INGAA's Edwards states INGAA is supportive, too, of the MAOP provision "with some tiny modifications." S. 275 also includes MAOP provisions similar to those in the E&C bill.

All three bills also contain a provision which, for the first time, gives PHMSA new authority to conduct "facility design safety reviews" of new gas and hazardous liquid pipelines, and charge a fee for doing so. PHMSA typically already reviews natural gas pipelines during the FERC construction approval process. But it does not charge the pipeline companies a fee. Unlike natural gas pipelines, oil pipelines can be built without any prior federal approval. As a matter of course, oil pipeline companies may have preliminary informal discussions with PHMSA before starting to build. The three bills establish thresholds -- for new projects either over $1 billion or $3.4 billion, depending on the bill -- over which PHMSA can assert authority and charge the pipeline a fee for "looking over the company's shoulder," in Hogfoss' words. None of the bills specify how the fee would be figured.

Green Completions For Shale Gas
"Green completions" -- that appears to be a new watchword growing out of the shale gas explosion. The issue of green completions came up on Oct. 4 when members of President Obama's shale gas subcommittee went before the Senate Energy Committee.

Kathleen McGinty, a member of the DOE shale gas subcommittee, brought up the issue of green completions as an example of a possible solution to objectionable methane emissions. McGinty is senior vice president of Weston Solutions and chaired the White House Council on Environmental Quality under President Clinton.