On December 21, 2020 Congress passed the lengthiest piece of legislation in its history—nearly 5600 pages. While most Americans are focused on the provisions of the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021” related to coronavirus response and recovery, it also included provisions that will directly impact pipeline operators.

The “Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act of 2020” appears at page 2634. The Act contains two provisions which will expand federal regulation of the natural gas pipeline industry.

First, the Act requires PHMSA to, “Not later than 90 days after date of enactment of this Act… issue a final rule with respect to the proposed rule issued on April 8, 2016 …that relates to consideration of gathering pipelines.” The proposed rule published in 2016 changed the existing definition of gathering lines to remove the reference to the API RP 80 definition of gathering lines and replace it with a definition drafted by PHMSA. It also expanded regulation of rural gathering to all lines  more than 8.625 inches in outside diameter. Although recent information from PHMSA shows that it may reconsider some of the provisions of the proposed rule before adoption, industry representatives should pay attention to this issue.

Second, the Act requires PHMSA to adopt, within the next year, regulations that require operators of certain regulated gathering lines to conduct leak detection and repair programs. Once again, industry representatives will want to follow PHMSA’s efforts on this topic.