PHMSA's Attention To Pipeline Safety Becomes An Issue

August 2014, Vol. 69, No. 8

Pipeline safety is back on the congressional agenda: in part because of a recent Department of Transportation Inspector General's report and in part because of PHMSA'S failure to finish rulemakings mandated by the 2011 pipeline safety bill.

The PHMSA's foot-dragging has irritated the industry and major pipeline safety advocacy group equally.

The unhappiness surfaced at a May 20 hearing in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The lightening rod was the PHMSA's failure to finalize rules that are required by the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act of 2011. Rulemakings on remote and automatic shutoff valves, on changes to both the hazardous liquid and gas transmission integrity programs, regulations on records/testing for pre‐1970 pipe as well as a report on excavation damage to pipelines are among the delayed items.

What was interesting was that Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, seemed to back the agency's "go slow" approach. "It also means doing the due diligence to ensure rules do not go beyond congressional intent, thereby creating uncertainty for the regulated community, which ultimately does not enhance safety," he said. Denham appeared to be more concerned that any PHMSA final rules could tie the pipeline industry in regulatory knots while providing little extra in the way of safety.

But Don Santa, president and CEO of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), disabused Denham’s approval of PHMSA's slow pace. He said, "The practical consequence of this delay, however, is to erode the confidence of some pipeline companies that proceeding with the dedication of resources needed to implement pipeline safety commitments will be consistent with the final rules adopted by PHMSA. This hesitancy is rooted in the perceived risk that the rules ultimately might compel repeating certain steps in the pipeline safety action plan."

Carl Weimer, executive director the Pipeline Safety Trust, also voiced some frustration. He said part of the reason the PHMSA is behind schedule is that its officials say they lack the resources to meet the congressional timetables. Sometimes the White House has impeded progress. There is plenty of blame to go around, he noted. That said, Weimer gave the industry much credit for reducing pipeline accidents.