PHMSA Releases Controller/Control Room Regulation

By Stephen Barlas, Washington Editor | November 2008 Vol. 63 No. 11

The federal pipeline regulatory agency proposed a broad new rule which would force hazardous liquid, transmission and distribution pipelines plus LNG terminals to train and test large numbers of employees in control room operations, and implement new safety measures for SCADA systems.

The requirements go far beyond the current operator qualification (OQ) rule, and surprised industry executives who were expecting a rule whose application was limited to personnel in remote locations.

“It is a mess,” says one industry official, who notes pipeline companies are working feverishly to convince the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to make significant changes prior to publishing a final rule, which PHMSA expects to do by the end of December, prior to the end of the Bush administration.

Terry Boss, senior vice president at INGAA, says pipeline companies expected the proposed rule to cover about 800 people, based on discussions at public workshops PHMSA held, the most recent last May. “Now, all of a sudden, it covers 12,000 people,” states Boss, using a loose estimate. “That is a lot of tracking.” Boss contends the rule, if it becomes final as proposed, would equal the integrity management rule in terms of administrative, management and record keeping costs. There are no capital costs associated with the controllers’ rule.

Even pipeline safety advocates think PHMSA went a bit overboard. Richard B. Kuprewicz, president, Accufacts Inc., a company which provides pipeline safety services, in one of them. Kuprewicz is a watchdog of sorts, and a board member of the Washington state Citizens Committee on Pipeline Safety Committee. But his technical expertise is unimpeachable. He had argued the industry was downplaying the risks of controller error. But surprisingly, Kuprewicz agrees that PHMSA went too far with its proposed rule. “I give them an ‘A’ on the processes they have laid out,” he says, “but in terms of their definition of what a controller is and what SCADA systems are, I would tend to say they have overreached. I understand the industry’s anxiety.”