April 2021, Vol. 248, No. 4


New PHMSA Rules Ease Burdens, Maintains Safety

P&GJ Staff Report 

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) re-examination of the Federal Pipeline Safety Regulations should ease regulatory burdens on the construction, maintenance and operation of gas transmission, distribution and gathering pipeline systems, according to the final rule in the Federal Register. 


Pipeline Safety: Gas Pipeline Regulatory Reform was set forth by PHMSA, which is under the U.S. Department of Transportation, and became effective March 12. The rules will adjust the Federal Pipeline Safety Regulations to require fewer reports regarding leaks and incidents, especially those that are low-consequence or no-consequence. 

Revisions include clarifying that operators may remotely inspect rectifier stations for external corrosion, update the monetary threshold for incident reporting to account for inflation and align standards regarding governing plastic pipe and welding process requirements, among others. 

The amendments should reduce regulatory burdens, increase flexibility, improve efficiency and add clarity to existing rules, according to the cost and benefits section. The rules should save about $129.8 million to $132.5 million annually, the rule states. 

As required by President Bill Clinton’s Executive Order 12866 from 1993, PHMSA published the proposed rule June 8 and invited the public to submit comments by Aug. 10. This aligns with responsibility the order places on agencies, which requires them to “provide the public with meaningful participation in the regulatory process.”   

The proposed rule received 47 comments, which PHMSA considered and responded to within the final rule published in the Federal Register on Jan. 11. It became official 60 days later.  

Fitting Failures 

The rule eliminates a dedicated report form for mechanical fitting failures (MFF), removing a section of guidelines that “requires distribution pipeline operators to submit an MFF report to PHMSA almost every time there is a release from a mechanical joint.” 

PHMSA sought to collect data about the frequency and characteristics of mechanical joint failures when this rule was established in 2011 but determined further collection of MFF reports has limited value, the rule states. 

Although the number of mechanical joint failure reports increased almost each year, from 8,342 reports in 2011 to 12,865 reports in 2015, according to a data analysis, most of the reports “are low-consequence or no-consequence events that do not meet the definition of an incident at § 191.3,” the rule states. 

Updates, Adjustments 

That definition of an incident was created by PHMSA’s predecessor agency, the Research and Special Programs Administration, in 1984. The definition required operators to report incidents consisting of a release of gas that resulted in estimated property damage of $50,000 or more, not including the cost of lost gas.  

That damage threshold has remained the same since, meaning it required incidents that would not have been reported in 1984 to be reported to PHMSA due to inflation in property, equipment and repair costs, the rule states. 


Commenters in support of changing this portion of the rule noted the lack of adjustment for inflation in the damage threshold resulted in a distorted view of pipeline safety performance, since reportable incidents are often used as a performance metric in the natural gas industry. TC Energy suggested raising the threshold to $250,000, according to a comment filed. 

“Even if repair costs may have risen faster than inflation, TC Energy has not provided a convincing rationale for why $250,000 represents current repair costs for incidents across the industry,” the rule states. 

The rule raised the threshold to $122,000, the financial equivalent to $50,000 in 2019, the most recent complete calendar year before the rule was written. The rule also requires more frequent updates to the damage threshold. PHMSA incorporated a formula to be used to annually update property damage criterion to become effective each July 1. 

Inspections, Flexibility 

Another lack of update was in relation to technology progression related to monitoring rectifier stations. It is now possible to monitor rectifier stations remotely, but it was not clear in the guidelines that this was permissible, according to the rule proposal.  

It is permissible to remotely inspect rectifiers using any technology that provides reliable data, but physical inspections are still required annually.  

“This change has no impact on the intended frequency of inspections but provides more flexibility to operators and avoids situations where inspections would have been required more frequently than intended,” the rule states. 

As PHMSA is not aware of any pipeline incidents arising from atmospheric corrosion on a service line, the new rule reduces required inspections on onshore gas pipelines from every three years to every five years. If atmospheric corrosion were identified on the last section, the inspection would remain every three years. 

PHMSA previously approved state waivers allowing certain operators to perform atmospheric corrosion and leakage surveys on 4-year intervals. The agency has not observed an increase in leaks or incidents related to the waivers, according to the rule.  

The rule also requires welders to demonstrate they have engaged in welding with a welding process at intervals not exceeding 7 and a half months, if the welds were tested and found acceptable in accordance with API Standards. 

This change should provide operators with flexibility in scheduling welding activities to maintain welder requalification, potentially benefiting the welders who welds relatively infrequently, the rule states. 

The voluntary compliance date with the rule was March 12, the same day it became effective. The required compliance date is Oct. 1. 

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