PHMSA Considering Additional Pipeline Safety Changes

March 2012, Vol. 67 No. 3

With Congress having passed a pipeline safety bill last December, you'd think the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has plenty to do implementing that law during 2012.

But if you thought that meant that PHMSA has stopped considering any additional, pipeline safety changes it can make administratively, without congressional approval, you'd be wrong. The agency says it has every intention of moving forward with some of the pipeline safety changes it broached in an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) the agency published last August. The comment period closed on Jan. 20, 2012.

Paul J. Metro, chief, Gas Safety Division, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, says, "I believe that PHMSA will move forward with the ANPRM once they review the numerous comments that they received. Many of the issues addressed in the ANPRM are issues that have arisen from incidents across the nation that have been identified and require PHMSA action." Metro is chairman of The National Association of Pipeline Safety Representatives (NAPSR).

In a statement to Underground Construction, PHMSA says it "will also continue moving forward" with the ANPRM which is "complementary" to the new pipeline safety bill, called the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act. "PHMSA is currently reviewing comments received in response to the ANPRM to determine next actions," the agency states.

The PHMSA ANPRM raised 120 questions, most with multiple sub-parts, spanning a wide array of topics related to natural gas pipeline safety. Those questions suggest the agency is considering administrative changes which would go beyond the changes Congress authorized in the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act, which was an incremental piece of legislation.

For example, the bill will allow PHMSA to require integrity management processes outside of High Consequence Areas (HCAs). The ANPRM, on the other hand, asked whether PHMSA should revise the existing criteria for identifying HCAs to expand the miles of pipeline included in HCAs, or make all Class 3 and 4 locations subject to the IM requirements.