Earlier today the federal government’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued three significant pipeline safety rules. The rules, which were years in the making, address congressional mandates dating back to 2011 and address recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
The new regulations strengthen gas transmission and hazardous liquid pipeline safety by raising the bar on federal pipeline safety standards. The agency explains that the new rules will expand a requirement to incorporate wholistic, risk-based integrity management plans, which utilize data to follow and chart the health of pipelines throughout their lifecycle in much the same way doctors follow patient’s health. New enhanced procedures are also aimed at protecting infrastructure from extreme weather events and provide for greater oversight of pipelines beyond current safety requirements.
The U.S. Department of Transportation, the cabinet agency responsible for PHMSA, says that the pipeline safety regulator is responsible for ensuring the nation’s 2.8 million miles of pipelines safely deliver trillions of cubic feet of natural gas and hundreds of billions of ton/miles of liquid petroleum products each year.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao personally weighed in saying, “These are significant revisions to federal pipeline safety laws and will improve the safety of our nation’s energy infrastructure.”
Today’s rules also provided the safety agency with new authority to issue emergency orders when and if needed to address unsafe conditions or situations it believes pose an imminent threat to pipeline safety. It also requires operators of natural and other gas transmission pipelines to strengthen requirements for computing maximum line pressures and requires companies to enhance record-keeping requirements.
“The tremendous growth in U.S. energy production will require greater anticipation and preparation for emerging risks to public safety,” said PHMSA Administrator Skip Elliott. “These forward-looking rules will help ensure pipeline operators invest in continuous improvements to pipeline safety and integrity management.”
For pipeline companies transporting crude oil or refined products, such as gasolines, the new requirements are tied to improving data collection and analysis for decision-making and expanding the requirement to utilize leak detection techniques to more lines.
The agency also oversees the safe and secure movement of all hazardous materials by air, land, and sea accounting for nearly two-thirds of all energy products consumed by the country daily.
Once known as “the little Agency that could,” PHMSA came under criticism during the Obama years, caught in the middle between pro and anti-fossil fuel camps as American energy production surged. While much of the criticism was mis-placed and has since faded, today’s safety action squarely places the regulator in charge of pipeline safety.