Federal Excavation Requirements Imminent

February 2013, Vol. 240 No. 2

A final rule meant to limit pipeline damage from excavation should be made final this summer. Two advisory committees voted approval and authorized changes to the proposed rule the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued in April 2012. Many of the changes appeared designed to toughen requirements on excavators.

The final rule stems from a provision in The Pipeline Inspection, Protection, Enforcement and Safety (PIPES) Act of 2006. That essentially came about because of concerns by transmission companies that excavators were causing unnecessary, and in some instances, catastrophic pipeline accidents by digging in areas without first determining whether pipelines were present. The PIPES Act told PHMSA to define minimum excavation damage program standards for states. If a state fails to adopt those standards and enforce them, PHMSA can seek fines from excavators who ignore a new federal standard on excavation damage, which the final rule establishes. The minimum state and new federal standard will be similar.

Terry Boss, senior vice president at INGAA, says, “From an overall viewpoint, INGAA was happy with the committees’ recommendations.” He notes it is unclear how the PHMSA staff will translate those recommendations into regulatory language.
The key element in the final rule will be criteria PHMSA will use to determine if each state’s excavation damage prevention law meets federal standards. Almost all criteria apply to what state laws require of excavators. INGAA had three main problems with the criteria proposed in April. It appears the amendments approved by the advisory committees instruct PHMSA to modify the criteria in the ways demanded by the group.
For example, one of the proposed criteria would have required states to demand that when a pipeline is damaged by an excavation activity the excavator report the damage to the pipeline operator at the earliest practicable moment after the damage occurs. When damage caused by an excavation activity causes a release, the excavator would be required to contact 811.INGAA argued that there needed to be an additional state requirement: that excavators stop work, whether there is a release or not, until the pipeline determines it is safe for work to resume.

One amendment the committees adopted appears to give INGAA about 80% of what it sought. The provision directs PHMSA to add a “stop work” requirement for state laws which says excavators must stop work until “the pipeline has had an opportunity to assess the damage.” It doesn’t say the excavator must wait until the pipeline approves resumption of digging.

Another criteria would have required excavators to use an available One-Call system prior “to commencing excavation activity where an underground gas or hazardous liquid pipeline may be present.” INGAA argued this would allow excavators to claim “ignorance” for not calling a One-Call system based on the fact they didn’t know a pipeline was buried in the area. The advisory committees agreed and ordered PHMSA to eliminate the possibility of a claim of ignorance when it publishes the final rule.
The advisory committees also approved a new criterion which requires state laws to cover individuals digging on their own property. That addition was sought by INGAA and the National Association of Pipeline Safety Representatives (NAPSR).

One of the industry’s big concerns was not addressed by the advisory committees. That is One Call exemptions states grant to government and private parties. The criterion in the April proposed rule was: “Does the state limit exemptions for excavators from its excavation damage prevention law? A state must provide to PHMSA a written justification for any exemptions for excavators from state damage prevention requirements. PHMSA will make the written justifications available to the public.”

The advisory committees did not authorize changes to that language. Hans Mertens, administrative manager at NAPSR, says exemption language is important. But he adds, “PHMSA recognizes that a blanket requirement may be counter-productive.” PHMSA plans a workshop on the exemptions issue March 14 in conjunction with a Common Ground Association meeting in Florida.

EPA Proposes To Regulate Off-Site Repairs To Compression Turbines
Intrastate and Interstate pipelines are unhappy with an EPA proposed rule to subject offsite repair of compressor station turbines to new regulatory restrictions. This would affect provisions under New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for Stationary Combustion Turbines, known as Subpart KKKK. The EPA has been trying to make changes to Subpart KKKK since 2006.

INGAA member companies operate approximately 1,000 gas-fired stationary combustion turbines and 6,000 gas-fired spark ignition reciprocating engines, says Lisa Beal, vice president, Environment and Construction Policy, INGAA. The majority of turbines used in natural gas transmission are manufactured by Solar Turbines. Their turbines are designed with the three primary sections – inlet compressor, combustion section, and turbine – in three modular sections.

With like-kind replacement, a module can be exchanged with an analogous unit to limit down time. This allows routine overhaul to be completed at an off-site plant with special tooling and minimizes downtime for overhaul. EPA’s concern is that when an industrial turbine is fixed offsite, the owner – the pipeline – has no control over the replacement parts used. Those parts can have a big impact on emissions once the turbine is back at the compressor station.

EPA has proposed five amendments to Subpart KKKK, three of which seem unobjectionable. The problems are amendments 1 and 5 which redefine an affected source for purposes of an EPA-mandated process called reconstruction analysis and apply that reconstruction analysis to offsite overhauls of combustion turbines.

“EPA should not revise Subpart KKKK to impose new restrictions on offsite overhaul of existing turbines. EPA has not considered the significant cost impacts these revisions would have on natural gas pipeline compressor turbines,” says Pam Lacey, senior managing counsel, environment, American Gas Association.

Construction Of Auxiliary Pipeline Facilities May Require FERC Approval
Pipelines won’t be able to build “auxiliary” facilities outside certificated rights-of-way and those work spaces if the FERC finalizes a proposed rule it issued in January. The issue focuses on whether interstate transmission companies have to come back to FERC and file a section 7 construction application if they want to add cathodic protection, electrical and communication equipment, pig launchers and receivers, and buildings beyond the existing right-of-way and work space. At issue is section 2.55 of FERC regulations which defines facilities that may be added, altered, or replaced under a company’s existing Natural Gas Act (NGA) section 7(c) certificate authorization, without the need for any additional authorization.

There appears to be some confusion in the industry in part because of some past, apparently erroneous FERC staff guidance. The Commission, in proposing to clarify what it says is existing policy, wants to have the chance to ensure that construction work outside an approved right-of-way does not cause environmental damage. FERC is not worried about valves being installed outside rights of way. More extensive modifications are a concern.

In a filing with FERC last April, INGAA argued that conventional ground bed installations for cathodic protection commonly involve construction outside of the right-of-way and should not require approval. FERC countered in its Jan. 4, 2013 proposed rule that an alternative to the conventional method of installation is deep-well anode bed installations, which may not require disturbance outside of the right-of-way, which are also in use and may offer other benefits such as greater reliability of corrosion protection. INGAA also cited communication towers for the monitoring of electrical and communication equipment as auxiliary installations that involve ground-disturbing activity and are commonly located outside of the existing right-of-way.