Monday, August 1, 2011

Pipeline Safety Bill Markup

Somehow I missed the fact that last week the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a markup hearing on the pipeline safety discussion draft they had held a hearing on the previous week. The Committee adopted substitute language offered by Chairman Upton (R, MI) and Ranking Member Dingell (D, MI) by voice vote. We’re still waiting for the actual bill to be introduced, I would assume that the language adopted by the Committee will be the language introduced.

The revised bill added three new sections:

• Sec. 27. Maximum allowable operating pressure.

• Sec. 28. Cover over buried pipeline.

• Sec. 29. Onshore gathering lines.
Additionally, there were changes within many of the other existing sections of the bill. I haven’t had a chance to do a detailed review of each section, but I have looked at those sections that bear on emergency response type activities.

Maximum Allowable Operating Pressure

This new §27 is essentially the same as the new §27 added to S 275 in the Senate report on that bill. It does include the same 5 day reporting requirement for exceeding the operating limits of pressure relief devices. As I noted in my blog post on the S 275 report:

“The five day requirement is kind of bizarre; this type of ‘exceedance’ was an immediate precursor to the San Bruno catastrophe. Not all such ‘exceedances’ would presage a catastrophic release or explosion, but some would. Since minutes count in the response to these type incidents, immediate notification of State and local responders should be the standard with a follow-up report to PHMSA within 5 days that would include a root-cause analysis and corrective action plan.”
Covering Pipelines

The new §28 requires the Secretary to complete an evaluation to determine “whether or not current regulations regarding cover over buried pipeline at crossings of inland bodies of water with a width of at least 100 feet from high water mark to high water mark are sufficient to prevent a release of hazardous liquid” (in an added §60141).

This is an obvious knee jerk reaction to the recent leak of the Exxon pipeline underneath the Yellowstone River. This is probably a tad premature since the root cause of that leak has not been determined, but this type of periodic review is probably a good idea in any case; one should periodically question one’s safety assumptions.

The really odd thing about this section is that there is no requirement for the Secretary to do anything with the study results. Typically there is language requiring a report to Congress; how could they forget this?

Gathering Lines

The new §29 along with changes to §4 separate out the study and reporting requirements for onshore and offshore gathering lines. Section 29 retains the 1 year completion requirement for onshore gathering lines while the revised §4 provides 2 years for the same study of offshore gathering lines.

Leak Detection Requirements

The new version of this draft bill adopted by the Committee makes two changes to the §10 requirements for leak detection. The existing requirements in §10(b) for new leak detection regulations were put into a subparagraph (1) while the qualifying phrase ‘particularly in high consequence areas’ was removed. A second subparagraph was added providing a requirement that the new regulations would establish “technically, operationally, and economically feasible standards for the capability of such systems to detect leaks” {§10(b)(2)}.

Incident Notification

The addition of a few words in §11 would place a significant added burden on operators. The follow-up notifications required in the revision to §60139(c) would have to be completed “within 48 hours, to the extent practicable”. Industry will yell and scream that there is just too much stuff going on at that point in the incident mitigation and investigation process for that time line to be practical. It does seem to me, however, that it is a reasonable time frame for most incidents and is fairly well in line with other incident reporting requirements of other agencies of the Federal government. Besides, the inclusion of the words ‘to the extent practicable’ provides significant wiggle room to avoid the time limit for this requirement to anyone willing to fight that ‘practicable’ battle.

Arrests and Warrants

The revised language of the bill removed §12(a)(c) which had provided a loosely defined collection of DOT and Coast Guard personnel do arrest violators of section 311(m)(2) of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act{(33 U.S.C. 1321(m)(2)} whom they actually observed violating the Act. This seemed to be a bit of a reach. The wording of §12 still provides for facility entry and inspection as well as access to records. If a criminal case can be made the appropriate US Attorney will send either the FBI or US Marshals to effect any arrests.

Moving Forward

With the quick move from the initial hearing on this discussion draft on July 15th to the Committee mark-up on July 27th, I think that it is safe to say that moving this bill forward is a priority for Chairman Upton. The fact that Ranking Member Dingell is co-sponsor of the amended language marks this bill as having significant bipartisan support. If the House sticks around next week as has been discussed, I would not be surprised to see this bill make its way to the floor of the House. A good indication of the speed of future action will be how fast the Committee Report gets published.

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