Obama Signs New Pipeline Safety Bill; PHMSA starts rulemaking on EFVs

January 2012, Vol. 67 No. 1

The pipeline safety bill President Obama signed in December gives PHMSA new latitude to expand integrity management requirements and require new industry safety measures such as automatic or remote-controlled shut-off valves.

But the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) will have to jump through more flaming hoops than a circus performer before it can issue final rules. The Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 (H.R. 2845) requires PHMSA to first do a number of studies and reports, submit them to Congress, meet congressional thresholds for enacting any new standards and, in one important instance, gives Congress an opportunity to forestall any new standard.

The final bill generally pleased all industry groups, including INGAA, which is already voluntarily extending integrity management procedures beyond what are called High Consequence Areas -- deemed areas with high population density. The bill gives the PHMSA authority to require extension of IM processes. But first it must make an evaluation of whether extension of IM procedures is necessary and economically justified, based on criteria the bill lays out. The PHMSA has two years to make that evaluation. It must then submit its thoughts to Congress. Then Congress has one year to pass legislation based on the PHMSA report, or pass legislation prohibiting PHMSA from acting. If Congress does nothing, PHMSA is free to act on its own.

PHMSA also has to jump through numerous hoops before requiring interstate pipelines to install automatic or remote-controlled shut-off valves. It can only do so two years after the bill's passage and after determining such a requirement is "economically, technically and operationally feasible" and can require installation only on new pipelines.

The bill uses identical language with regard to any PHMSA rule requiring distribution pipelines to install excess flow valves (EFVs) on lines serving apartment buildings, commercial and industrial facilities. The current PHMSA rule, enacted as a result of a provision in the last (2006) pipeline safety bill, limits installation of EFVs to new, single family homes. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has a long-standing recommendation (see item below) to require EFVs for all residential, commercial and industrial buildings.