In Wake of San Bruno, PHMSA Calls Oversight of IM Programs "Lacking"

February 2011, Vol. 66 No. 2

Paying attention
Martin Edwards, vice president of legislative affairs at INGAA, says, "We can pretty safely say that all operators are taking integrity management extremely seriously. But there is a lot of give and take between the regulated community and the regulator. In addition, PHMSA is pushing to expand the envelope as reflected in its legislative proposal to Congress last year to expand the amount of pipe segments covered under the IM program."

Kuprewicz believes Congress will address the shortcomings referenced in the advisory bulletin as "more comes to light about investigations uncovering major weakness in gas transmission approaches to IM rules." Additional information could come to light in the NTSB hearings on March 1-2 which will probably explore how pipelines determine MAOP, and the adequacy of current practices in that regard.

The NTSB recommendations and the PHMSA advisory bulletin have been picked up by congressional radar. "The Committee is aware of them both," says Justin Harclerode, spokesman for Rep. John Mica (R-Fl), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. "As we prepare a pipeline safety reauthorization bill, we will take a hard look at the high profile pipeline accidents that have occurred over the past year and determine what changes need to be made to federal pipeline safety law in order to prevent these types of accidents from occurring in the future."

PHMSA's preferred means for establishing MAOP is via hydrostatic testing. But that means shutting down pipelines and temporarily stopping gas deliveries to customers. Consequently, operators prefer to use available design, construction, inspection, testing, and other related records to calculate the valid MAOP. While this method is permissible under the IM program, it is susceptible to error if pipeline records are inaccurate. In the case of the PG&E accident, the NTSB says its "preliminary findings indicate that the pipeline operator did not have an accurate basis for the MAOP calculation."