A new pipeline safety bill started its trek through Congress May 5 when the Senate Commerce Committee passed The Pipeline Transportation Safety Improvement Act (S. 275). The mild bill is largely unobjectionable to the gas and liquid pipeline industries, but neither does it grant INGAA’s long-standing top priority: adopting a risk-based approach to retesting of pipelines in high consequence areas (HCAs).
The bill does not endorse an expansion of HCAs though it does authorize the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to undertake a year-long study which could lead to the agency proposing an expansion of HCAs.
Several amendments were tacked onto the bill when the committee passed it. One requires PHMSA to apply “due process” protections to pipelines when enforcement actions are proposed. Andy Black, president of the Association of Oil Pipelines, welcomes that amendment because the bill also increases the size of civil penalties the PHMSA can mete out by 150%. The new top civil penalties of $250,000 per incident up to a total of $2.5 million would only come into play for incidents with “major consequences” defined as those resulting in one or more deaths; one or more injuries or illnesses requiring in-patient hospitalization; or environmental harm exceeding $250,000 in estimated damage to the environment.
Black says some provisions need “further enhancements.” That point was reiterated at the committee mark-up by Sen. Kay Hutchinson (R-TX), ranking GOPer on the committee. She thanked Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) for working to address some of her concerns in changes made to the bill before the vote, and added that she would be seeking “further improvements” when the bill goes to the Senate floor. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee must pass a pipeline safety bill which may or may not be similar to S. 275.Rep. Bud Shuster (R-PA), chairman of the railroads, pipelines and hazardous materials subcommittee, said he would not be considering a pipeline safety bill until fall.
Don Santa, president of INGAA, states, “This legislation updates and improves pipeline safety policy in several areas, including integrity management and damage prevention.” Again, the bill does not dictate changes in the distribution or transmission integrity programs, just a study. But Martin Edwards, INGAA’s top legislative executive, says there is no doubt PHMSA will be expanding HCAs administratively. “The only question is how much HCAs will be expanded,” he explains.
The bill passed by the Senate committee includes numerous provisions of interest to distribution, transmission and liquid pipelines. None make far-reaching changes to the current safety system overseen by PHMSA. To the extent that the bill authorizes an additional 39 staff positions at PHMSA over the next four years, it is uncertain whether the Appropriations Committees in the Senate and House will provide the funding for those salaries.
The bill requires the use of automatic or remote-controlled shut-off valves, or equivalent technology, where economically, technically, and operationally feasible on transmission pipelines constructed or entirely replaced two years after PHMSA issues a final rule. A leak detection standard would be required, but only for hazardous liquid pipelines.
The bill passed by the committee includes a couple of new sections not in the original bill introduced earlier in this Congress. The key new ingredient for transmission pipelines is a section on maximum allowable operating pressure (MAOP). This was an issue in the San Bruno explosion. The provision would require all distribution and transmission pipelines to conduct a verification of records for all class 3 and 4 locations and in class 1 and 2 HCAs to ensure MAOPs accurately reflect the pipeline’s physical and operational characteristics. If those records are unavailable, companies would have to submit the location of those pipeline segments to PHMSA. Also, companies would have to report having exceeded any MAOPs within five days of that happening. Edwards notes the MAOP provisions are significant, mostly because there is a likelihood that now-private pipeline company records will become public.
For distribution lines, the new language addresses cast iron pipelines. This was undoubtedly in response to the accident in Allentown, PA in February where a 12-inch main exploded, killing five people. The section requires PHMSA to see whether local gas utilities that use cast iron pipelines have a plan for safe management of them, and the anticipated rate of replacement.
Gas Groups Want Emergency Repair Provisions In Corps’ Wetland Permits
The Army Corps of Engineers announced some proposed upcoming changes to wetlands permitting and some of those will affect pipeline construction. The Corps wants to eliminate nationwide permit (NWP) 47–Pipeline Safety Program Designated Time Sensitive Inspections and Repairs and make some very minor modifications to the two mainline NWPs the industry uses: NWP 3, Maintenance and NWP 12,Utility Line Activities. The current NWPs were published in March 2007 and expire on March 18, 2012.
NWP 47 would be tossed out because it really has never been used. This NWP was first issued in 2007 in conjunction with the PHMSA’s expected implementation of a web-based system called the Pipeline Repair and Environmental Guidance System (PREGS). The terms of NWP 47 required permittees to report their use of this NWP through PREGS. But PREGS never came on stream. So the NWP is being eliminated.
The good thing about NW 47 was that under it pipelines could make quick repairs to pipelines found to have defects without getting prior authorization from the Corps. This has become an increasingly important imperative as companies begin to more quickly respond to problems exposed during integrity management inspections. NWPs 3 and 12, on the other hand, allow regional Corps administrators to require preconstruction notices (PCNs) before any work is done. Those can take time to approve and delay fixes of troubled pipeline segments.
Both the American Gas Association and INGAA are asking the Corps to include language in NWP 3 and NWP 12 that pre-authorizes projects that are considered “immediate repairs,” “Corrective Action Order” projects, and “Safety Order” projects. That would allow pipeline companies to immediately address natural gas pipeline leaks, pressure malfunctions, natural disaster damage, terrorist threats, or other events that pose a danger to public safety, including work necessary to respond, replace, repair, test or inspect affected utility lines.
In terms of changes to NWP 3, the Corps wants to clarify that stream channel excavation immediately adjacent to pipeline construction does not require a PCN. This can occur when structures or fills are replaced with larger culverts or bridges that improve fish passage. The change to NWP 12 would just be a minor clarification of existing language.
New Underground Construction Standards Imminent From OSHA
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) appears ready to propose a new standard on silica exposure which would have a major impact on underground construction companies. David Michaels, the assistant secretary for labor, provided that tidbit when he testified before a House Appropriations subcommittee recently. OSHA has been considering a new standard for many years, but has never come close to pulling the trigger. Michaels says, “Later this year, we plan to propose an updated standard that will protect workers from the deadly hazards of crystalline silica.” Silica exposure is linked to severe lung disease.
Of equal significance, Michaels says the agency is finalizing a confined spaces standard for construction workers. A proposed rule was issued in November 2007. Art Daniel, owner of an underground construction company, testified on the proposed standard on behalf of the Associated General Contractors of America. His company does underground utilities work. Daniel says the proposed standard would place contractors in a “confusing, burdensome, complicated position.” Michaels did not tell the House subcommittee what changes in the proposed rule his agency was likely to make. The proposal set up four classifications of confined space worksites with varying requirements for work practices, training and recordkeeping in each of the four.