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

January 2012, Vol. 67 No. 1

Among the most significant of the bill's 31 sections is the one related to maximum allowable operating pressure (MAOP). MAOP, like remote-controlled shut-off valves, was the subject of recommendations from the NTSB as a result of its investigation of the PG&E gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, CA. The NTSB recommended that Congress remove the provision in current law that exempts gas transmission pipelines constructed before 1970 from hydrostatic testing to determine the line's maximum allowable operating pressure. Also, to require post-construction hydrostatic pressure tests of at least 1.25 the maximum allowable operating pressure in order for manufacturing and construction-related defects to be considered stable.

The bill does remove that exemption; it requires PHMSA to publish within 18 months rules for testing "the material strength" of previously untested pipelines within HCAs. But it goes further by saying PHMSA must require interstate and intrastate pipelines to verify that the MAOP of pipelines in class 3 and class 4 locations and class 1 and class 2 HCAs accurately reflect their physical and operational characteristics. Pipeline owners would have to submit to PHMSA within 18 months of the bill's passage documentation where their records are "insufficient" to confirm the established MAOP. Any time pressure on a pipeline exceeds MAOP, the company would have to report that to PHMSA within five days.

The bill also addresses the issue of excavation damage. It requires states to eliminate current exemptions for certain participants in one-call notification systems if that state wants to get federal excavation damage prevention grants.

PHMSA starts rulemaking on EFVs

The PHMSA announced the start of a rulemaking designed to determine whether it should expand its requirement on distribution pipelines to install excess flow valves (EFVs). The advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) essentially gives PHMSA a head start on implementing one of the sections in the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 (see above).