On August 25, 2011, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (“DOT”) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (“PHMSA”) announced that it was seeking information concerning contemplated changes in natural gas transportation safety regulations. (1)  This advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (“ANPRM”) follows another one published by PHMSA involving hazardous liquid pipelines. See, 75 Fed. Reg. 63774 (Oct. 18, 2010). Draft rules have not yet been proposed in response to that initiative. In this initiative, PHMSA requests comments on considerations to greatly expand both the reach and the regulatory requirements for gas pipelines.

An August 24, 2011 press release from the DOT focused on the suggested elimination of an exemption granted to older pipelines. (2)  At issue is the exemption of §192.619(a)(3) that allows “pipelines to operate at the highest actual operating pressure to which they were subjected during the five years prior to July 1, 1970.” 75 Fed. Reg. at 53099. Elimination of this exemption would result in reducing the allowable operating pressure of some older gas transmission lines. 76 Fed. Reg. at 53100.

Historically, rural gas gathering lines were largely unregulated. See, 76 Fed. Reg. at 53100. In 2006, PHMSA divided onshore gas gathering lines into two categories based on its relative operating pressure (compared to design): Type A and Type B. See, 49 C.F.R. 129.9. Regulatory requirements differ based on this classification. Within the ANPRM, PHMSA suggest that existing regulation of gas gathering lines is insufficient, stating that less than ten percent of gas gathering lines in the U.S. are regulated by PHSMA. Specifically PHMSA requests comments on additional regulatory reporting requirements, changes in the definition of gathering lines (to reduce the mileage of unregulated pipelines) and regulations to require corrosion control and integrity management (“IM”) requirements.

PHMSA also requests comments on potential redefinition of areas considered high-consequence areas (“HCA”). Generally an HCA is an area with a higher population density. See, 49 C.F.R. 192.901. Areas designated as an HCA must develop and follow a written IM program. See, 49 C.F.R. 192.905. Changes in the definition of HCA will result in changes in the mileage of pipelines required to implement IM programs.

IM programs require pipeline operators to identify and consider threats and risk “to evaluate the merits of additional preventive and mitigative measures.” 49 C.F.R. 192.911(c). According to 49 C.F.R. 192.935, “an operator must take additional measures beyond those already required by Part 192 to prevent a pipeline failure and to mitigate the consequences of a pipeline failure in a high consequence area.” However, the additional measures are generally not specified. See, 76 Fed. Reg. at 53089. The ANPRM requests comments on requiring specific additional measures.(3)   PHMSA also requests comments on applying the additional measures to pipeline at non-HCA. Otherwise the ANPRM contains requests concerning the cost and benefit of strengthening other IM requirements: modifying the repair criteria, revising requirements for collecting, validating and integrating pipeline data, use of risk modeling, incorporating prior findings and more prescriptive methods.

The ANPRM also requests comment on several significant non-IM related requirements including:

  • valve spacing and the need for remotely or automatically controlled valves
  • corrosion control
  • longitudinal weld seam issues
  • underground gas storage requirements
  • management of change
  • quality management systems

Persons interested in submitting written comments must do so by December 2, 2011.

(1)  Pipeline Safety: Safety of Gas Transportation Pipelines, ANPRN, 76 Fed. Reg. 53086 (Aug. 25, 2011).
(2) U.S. Department of Transportation Seeks Comment on Possible New Gas Pipeline Safety Measures (Aug. 24, 2011), found here, (last visited Aug. 29, 2011).
(3) These additional requirements include: additional line markers; depth of cover surveys; close interval surveys for cathodic protection verification; coating surveys and required recoating; additional right-of-way patrols, shorter in-line inspection run intervals; additional gas quality monitoring, sampling, and in-line inspection tool runs; and improved standards for marking pipelines for operator construction and maintenance one-calls. See 76 Fed. Reg at 53090.