Thursday, October 20, 2016

PHMSA Sends Two Pipeline Safety Rules to OMB

On Tuesday the DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) sent two pipeline safety rulemakings to the OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for approval. The first was an interim final rule; Pipeline Safety – Underground Storage Facilities for Natural Gas. The second was a final rule; Pipeline Safety – Safety of Hazardous Liquid Pipelines.

Underground Storage Facilities

This is a brand-new rulemaking that first showed up in the Spring 2016 Unified Agenda. According to the abstract:

“PHMSA has safety authority over the underground storage facilities used in natural gas pipeline transportation, but has no safety regulations in the DOT Code (49 CFR part 192) that apply to the downhole underground storage reservoir for natural gas. PHMSA is planning to issue an interim final rule to require operators of underground storage facilities for natural gas to comply with minimum safety standards, including compliance with API RP 1171, Functional Integrity of Natural Gas Storage in Depleted Hydrocarbon Reservoirs and Aquifer Reservoirs, and API RP 1170, Design and Operation of Solution-mined Salt Caverns Used for Natural Gas Storage. PHMSA is considering adopting the non-mandatory provisions of the RPs in a manner that would make them mandatory, except that operators would be permitted to deviate from the RPs if they provide justification.”

Congress has not specifically required DOT to regulate natural gas underground storage facilities, but this rulemaking relies on the general authority provided to the Secretary under 49 USC 60102(a)(2) to establish safety standards for “pipeline transportation and for pipeline facilities”. The impetus for establishing this interim final rule is almost certainly the 2015 Aliso Canyon leak.

It looks like PHMSA has tried to avoid complaints about midnight rule making by requiring implementation of voluntary industry standards. If the Republicans retain control of both the House and Senate, I suspect that there might be an attempt to over-turn this interim final rule if it is published before the end of the Obama Administration. It is also possible that OIRA will not act on this rulemaking before the next Administration is inaugurated.

Hazardous Liquid Pipelines

The new hazardous liquid pipeline safety rulemaking was begun in 2010 with an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM). The notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) was published just over a year ago. Since this rulemaking has a long history it is unlikely that it would receive any special congressional attention in the next session.

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