Washington Watch

Stephen Barlas, Washington Editor

The most significant federal action this year affecting underground construction companies is likely to be the final rule from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) on excavation damage. The rule will have two parts. One will define minimum excavation damage program standards for states.

A final rule meant to limit pipeline damage from excavation should be made final sometime later this summer. Two advisory committees voted their approval and authorized changes to the proposed rule the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued in April 2012. Many of the changes the advisory committee green lighted appeared designed to toughen requirements on excavators.

The Department of Energy published a report from NERA Economic Consulting which concludes unlimited exports of U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) will help the U.S. economy, and the greater the exports, the greater the public good. The DOE automatically approves LNG exports to countries with a Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. But it must find that exports to countries without FTAs are in the public interest. The DOE commissioned the report to help it decide whether to approve additional non-FTA exports.

The results of the November presidential and congressional elections portend "more of the same" with regard to issues of interest to the gas transmission industry. Current regulatory dockets already underway will continue along their current track. Those dockets concern greenhouse gas emissions, the integrity management program and fracking.

Pipeline groups are unhappy with the way the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is interpreting the new penalty authority Congress provided it under the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011, which went into effect last January.

ConocoPhillips Alaska, among the most active companies exploring for oil and gas in northern Alaska, found a lot not to like in the Obama administration decision in mid-August with regard to development of the 22.8 million acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

Companies who do underground construction will be affected -- and not in a good way -- if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) goes ahead with its proposal to tighten its particulate matter air emissions standard, referred to as the PM2.5 standard (2.5 indicates the size of the particle).

The July 10, 2012, preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on the major oil leak from an Enbridge pipeline in Michigan in July 2010 faults the company's operational and training procedures in numerous instances.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved a Spectra pipeline project which will bring new natural gas supplies to New York City. Spectra subsidiaries Texas Eastern and Algonquin will combine to build the new capacity, which will involve about 20 miles of pipeline, among other construction, such as compressor stations, with the total project weighing in at about $850 million. Texas Eastern and Algonquin hope to have the gas flowing into Manhattan by November 2013.

The Obama administration took its first two regulatory steps -- one final, one tentative -- toward guarding against air and ground water pollution from fracking.

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