January 2019, Vol. 246, No. 1



By Stephen Barlas, Contributing Editor, Washington D.C.

Distribution Pipelines Win Big on New Plastic Pipe Rules   

Distribution pipelines will not face track and trace requirements for newly installed or repaired plastic pipelines, which comes as a relief for the American Gas Association, a group that strongly opposed the potential mandate when Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) first proposed a series of new standards in 2015.   

PHMSA also backed away from some of the other changes to its pipeline safety regulations proposed in 2015, either because of industry opposition or because of the advice of its Gas Pipeline Advisory Committee. The changes to agency regulations in the plastic pipe rule, published Nov. 20, go into effect Jan 22, 2019.  

The changes include increasing the design factor of polyethylene pipe, increasing the maximum pressure and diameter for Polyamide-11 pipe and components, allowing the use of Polyamide-12 pipe and components, new standards for risers, more stringent standards for plastic fittings and joints, stronger mechanical fitting requirements, and the qualification of procedures and personnel for joining plastic pipe.  

Christina Sames, vice president for Operations and Engineering, AGA, said her organization is supportive of the new rule, although some of the timelines for compliance are very short, which will present some challenges. But distribution companies will not have to worry about new track and trace requirements that PHMSA wanted to impose in two years.   

“We could have been supportive of including tracking and traceability in the final rule if PHMSA would have allowed enough time to implement,” Sames said. “An operator’s ability to perform tracking and traceability is dependent upon process integration across multiple company functions, which can be a long, labor and resource intensive venture.”  

Bob Biggard, pipeline safety supervisor at the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) and the National Association of Pipeline Safety Representatives (NAPSR) official who is the lead on Trenchless Plastic Pipeline Technology, did not respond to an e-mail asking for comment on the PHMSA final rule.  

One of the more controversial proposals from 2015 would have required distribution pipelines to ensure the excavation path for installation and maintenance activities provides sufficient clearance from other underground utilities and structures.   

Additionally, PHMSA proposed that operators be required to use a “weak link” device for plastic pipe through the ground during installation to prevent unnecessary, excessive stresses on the pipeline.   

NAPSR recommended requiring operators to pull through an additional 10 feet beyond the exit of the ground during trenchless excavation. If that segment of pipe showed any damage exceeding 10% of wall thickness, NAPSR suggested that the operator be required have to replace the installed segment.   

Also, NAPSR recommended requiring the use of a tracer wire, though it could be installed on an existing steel pipe if its use on the plastic pipe is not feasible. PHMSA declined to mandate any of NAPSR’s suggestions but said it “is open to enhancing these requirements in future rulemakings and possibly hosting a public workshop on weak links and trenchless excavation.”  

The mandate to use a weak link also drew some concern over its potential limitations, mostly that the use of the word “device” could limit operators to commercially available discrete devices.   

Some operators commented they use a piece of weaker pipe or an internal lab-designed device as a weak link. The commenters proposed that PHMSA clarify the language so as not to inadvertently prohibit alternative technologies. The GPAC voted unanimously to support these comments. PHMSA revised the definition of “weak link” to include a device or method, which should provide operators more flexibility.  

Some operators had concerns about the proposed requirement to ensure the excavation area is clear of other underground structures. The GPAC voted unanimously in favor of revising the language of this section to require operators to take “practicable steps” to maintain adequate clearance from other underground structures in accordance with “best practice” documents. In the final rule, PHMSA uses the “practicable steps” language but omits any reference to “best practices.”    

The proposal in 2015 around new “tracking and traceability” requirements didn’t go over well with either distribution pipelines or plastic pipe manufacturers. The proposed new requirements were the result of a NAPSR suggestion stemming from a resolution the organization adopted because of accident investigations in which insufficient data regarding pipe material had proved to be an obstacle in determining the cause of an incident.   

NAPSR pressed PHMSA to require the marking of all pipe and components to ensure identification for a period of 50 years, or the life of the pipeline. The data required in the marking would be the six fields prescribed under ASTM F2897-11a: component manufacturer, manufacturer’s lot code, production date, material, type and size.  

The industry opposition resulted in the GPAC recommending a phase-in of the marking provisions by establishing a compliance deadline of one year for ASTM F2897-11a-compliant markings and a deadline of five years for recordkeeping requirements. The GPAC further recommended PHMSA limit the marking and traceability requirements to the categories in ASTM F2897-11a and revise the permanent marking standard to a requirement that markings on plastic pipe and components be legible at the time of installation.  

In the end, PHMSA ignored the GPAC recommendations and eliminated any track and trace requirements.   

Senate Confirms 5th FERC Commission Despite Concerns 

The Senate approved Bernard McNamee as the fifth FERC commissioner at on Dec. 6, but he takes his seat with a big question mark over his head. Even Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who voted for McNamee in committee on Nov. 27, said, “Some of his comments were unfortunate.”  

She was alluding to a speech he gave in early 2018 in which he made a number of disparaging remarks about renewable fuels and lauded fossil fuels. FERC is supposed to make decisions on renewables, natural gas and other inputs independently. 

McNamee was executive director at Office of Policy of Department of Energy (DOE). He acknowledged saying, “Renewables, when they come on and off, it screws up the whole the physics of the grid.” He also disparaged “the Green Movement.”  

Having been a top official at the DOE, he is considered close to Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who in the fall of 2017, asked FERC to adopt rules giving a rate-making boost to electric utilities who used coal. Had FERC gone along with Perry’s request, the result might have disadvantaged natural gas pipelines. But FERC rejected that request in January 2018 while opening a new rule-making into grid resilience. There have been no developments on that.P&GJ 


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