Pipeline Approval Reform Bill Hits Headwinds

August 2013, Vol. 68 No. 8

The pipeline industry supports the bill wholeheartedly. There currently is a 90-day deadline under a 2005 law which requires agencies to complete permits within 90 days. But that 90-day limit is unenforceable. Nothing happens if the Corps or some other agency misses that deadline. A pipeline company can sue the agency, but that is almost always self-defeating. That is why the Interstate Natural Gas Association of American (INGAA) has pushed for the provision in the Pompeo bill establishing a "green light" for a permit if any agency takes no action within 90 days.

"In sum, certainty is needed," Don Santa, INGAA president and CEO said at the July 9 hearings. "Clear deadlines would bring action and accountability to all permitting agencies, and improve what is already a good process. H.R. 1900 provides that accountability."

INGAA, AGA dispute valve and leak detection reports

The two natural gas pipeline lobbies are trying to undermine the conclusions of two recent reports sent to Congress which could be read to support mandatory installation of automatic shut-off valves (ASVs) or remotely controlled shut-off valves (RSVs). The Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act of 2011 (PSA) required two separate reports, one on valves, another on leak detection systems. The law was signed by President Obama on Jan. 3, 2012.

Section four of that law requires the Secretary of Transportation to require the use of ASVs, RSVs or equivalent technology, where economically, technically and operationally feasible on transmission pipeline facilities within two years after the law was signed. Section 8 also requires the DOT secretary to issue final regulations requiring operators of hazardous liquid pipeline facilities to install leak detection systems one year after the GAO submits a report, or two years after the law is signed, whichever is earlier. Leak detection requirements can only be put in place if "practicable" and standards must be "technically, operationally, and economically feasible."

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) will make any decisions to regulate with regard to either valves or leak detection systems based on three reports that have been submitted to Congress. Two of those had to do with valves, one was on leak detection. In the first category are reports from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The section 8 leak detection report was done by Kiefner and Associates.