New Underground Construction Standards Imminent From OSHA; Pipeline Bill In Congress; Wetland Gas Repairs

June 2011 Vol. 66 No. 6

The bill requires the use of automatic or remote-controlled shut-off valves, or equivalent technology, where economically, technically and operationally feasible on transmission pipelines constructed or entirely replaced two years after PHMSA issues a final rule. A leak detection standard would be required, but only for hazardous liquid pipelines.

The bill passed by the committee includes a couple of new sections that were not in the original bill introduced earlier in this Congress. The key new ingredient for transmission pipelines is a section on maximum allowable operating pressure (MAOP). This was an issue in the San Bruno explosion. The provision would require all distribution and transmission pipelines to conduct a verification of records for all class 3 and 4 locations and in class 1 and 2 HCAs to insure MAOPs there accurately reflect the pipeline's physical and operational characteristics. If those records are not available, the companies would have to submit the location of those pipeline segments to PHMSA. Also, companies would have to report having exceeded any MAOPs within five days of that happening. INGAA's Edwards notes the MAOP provisions are significant, mostly because there is a likelihood that currently private pipeline company records will become public.

For distribution lines, the new language addresses cast iron pipelines. This was undoubtedly in response to the accident in Allentown, PA, in February where a 12-inch diameter main exploded killing five people. The section requires PHMSA to see whether local gas utilities that use cast iron pipelines have a plan for safe management of them, and the anticipated rate of replacement.

Gas Groups Want Emergency Repair Provisions In Corps’ Wetland Permits
The Army Corps of Engineers has announced some proposed upcoming changes to wetlands permitting and some of those will affect pipeline construction. The Corps wants to eliminate nationwide permit (NWP) 47--Pipeline Safety Program Designated Time Sensitive Inspections and Repairs, and make some very minor modifications to the two mainline NWPs the industry uses: NWP 3, Maintenance and NWP 12, Utility Line Activities. The current NWPs were published in March 2007 and expire on March 18, 2012.

The good thing about NW 47 was that under it, pipelines could make quick repairs to pipelines found to have defects without getting prior authorization from the Corps. This has become an increasingly important imperative as companies begin to more quickly respond to problems exposed during integrity management inspections.