April 2022, Vol. 249, No. 4


Rule Adds Protocols for Pipelines Near Sensitive Waterways

 P&GJ Staff Report 

(Editor’s note: The following article is a summary of recent PHMSA changes to guidances that affect pipelines and the midstream industry.) 

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued an Interim Final Rule (IFR) to the Federal Register in December that designated the Great Lakes, coastal beaches and marine coastal waters as “Unusually Sensitive Areas.” 


 The move extended more stringent pipeline Integrity Management Program requirements to hazardous liquid pipelines near such areas.  

PHMSA Deputy Administrator Tristan Brown said of the change in designation, “The Great Lakes and our coastal waters are natural treasures that deserve our most stringent protections. This rule strengthens and expands pipeline safety efforts in these sensitive areas.”  

The IRF designates the Great Lakes and coastal resources as High Consequence Areas (HCAs), which requires pipeline operators to update their Integrity Management Programs to include any pipeline that could affect these sensitive environments.  

The rule extends to enhanced standards for safety protocols, risk management, inspections and repairs. The IFR strengthens existing regulations and extends safety program enhancements to an additional 3,000 miles (4,828 km) of hazardous liquid pipelines in coastal areas.  

The PIPES Act of 2020 mandated that PHMSA update the regulatory definition of “Unusually Sensitive Areas,” which are a subset of HCAs, to include the Great Lakes, coastal beaches and coastal waters.  

This mandate clarified a related provision from the PIPES Act of 2016 by specifying which coastal areas must be protected.  

425,000 Miles of Gas Gathering Pipelines Now Under Federal Oversight 

U.S. DoT’s PHMSA issued a final rule in November that expands Federal pipeline safety oversight to all onshore gas gathering pipelines. The rule, initiated over 10 years ago, expands the definition of a “regulated” gas gathering pipeline that is more than 50 years old. 

For the first time, it will apply federal pipeline safety regulations to tens of thousands of miles of unregulated gas gathering pipelines. The final rule, also for the first time, requires pipeline operators to report safety information for all gas gathering lines, representing more than 425,000 additional miles (683,971 km) covered by federal reporting requirements.  

“After years in development, these new regulations represent a major step to enhance and modernize pipeline safety and environmental standards,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “This rule will improve safety, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and result in more jobs for pipeline workers that are needed to help upgrade the safety and operations of these lines.”  

Gas gathering lines typically transport natural gas from production facilities to interstate gas transmission pipelines. Historically, gathering lines have been lower-pressure, lower-risk, smaller-diameter lines, typically situated in lesser-populated, rural areas.  

With the increase in hydraulic fracturing over the last 15 years, the volume of gas extracted and transported through gathering lines has increased significantly. Gathering lines with diameters, operating pressures and associated risk factors similar to larger interstate transmission lines have become more common.  

A number of incidents have occurred on these high-pressure, unregulated lines – tragically leading to fatalities, injuries and large amounts of greenhouse gas (methane) emissions.  

More than 1,000 metric tons (1,102 US tons), on average, of potential methane gas are emitted with each pipeline rupture, according to PHMSA data. A single rupture from a large, high-pressure gas pipeline can release more than 1,300 metric tons (1,433 US tons) of methane emissions into the atmosphere. 

PHMSA estimates that there are at least 425,000 miles of onshore gas gathering lines that have not been subject to PHMSA oversight but will be after this rule takes effect.  

The rule establishes a new category of regulated onshore gathering lines covering higher-pressure lines that pose a heightened risk in rural areas and applies existing pipeline safety requirements to tens of thousands of miles of these pipelines.  

The rule also requires all onshore gas gathering pipeline operators to begin filing incident reports and comprehensive annual reports. Currently, without this data, estimates for the greenhouse gas impacts of highly potent methane pollution are uncertain.

The Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 required PHMSA to review existing regulations for gas gathering lines. The draft of this rule was first proposed on April 8, 2016.  

PHMSA is currently working to develop additional regulations that will enhance the safety oversight of gas gathering pipelines.  

US DoT Awards $100 Million in Grants for Pipeline Safety Efforts 

U.S. DoT’s PHMSA awarded $98,800,000 in grants to states, territories and tribes to help enhance pipeline and hazardous materials safety programs at the community level for 11 different safety programs.  

“States and community groups play an important role in addressing the safety challenges associated with pipelines and hazardous materials,” said PHMSA Acting Administrator Tristan Brown in September. “The grants announced today are essential in supporting the resource needs of states and localities to effectively enforce safety standards, train response personnel and equip everyday citizens with the necessary tools to protect themselves from transportation-related accidents.”

The awards provide over $69 million in grant funding for six different pipeline safety grant programs, including:

  • $58 million in Pipeline Safety State Base grants to support state inspection and enforcement of pipeline safety regulations for natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines.  
  • $4.8 million in Underground Natural Gas Storage grants to support efforts to inspect and enforce safety requirements, as well as mitigate releases from underground natural gas storage facilities, such as the October 2015 incident involving the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility in Los Angeles County, California.  
  • $2.1 million in Pipeline Safety Technical Assistance grants to support local community involvement in pipeline safety issues.  
  • $1.8 million in Competitive Academic Agreement Program awards to spur and utilize university research to advance pipeline safety technologies, innovation and knowledge dissemination.  
  • $1.7 million in State Damage Prevention Program grants to support and strengthen states’ efforts in addressing pipeline failures attributed to activities such as excavation damage.  
  • $1.1 million in One-Call grants to help improve state one-call notification systems and enhance damage prevention education and enforcement efforts.  
  • In addition, the award provides over $28 million in grants to support state and local hazardous materials programs nationwide. 

This includes approximately:

  • $21 million in Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness grants for states, territories and tribes to aid in the development, implementation and improvement of emergency plans for local and tribal communities and first-responder hazardous materials training.  
  • $3.5 million in Hazardous Materials Instructor Training grants to support the training of hazardous materials instructors and for such instructors to train hazardous materials employees.  
  • $1.6 million in Assistance for Local Emergency Response Training grants to support the training of volunteer or remote emergency responders to respond to incidents involving hazardous materials shipments by rail.  
  • $1.3 million in Supplemental Public Sector Training grants to support the training of hazardous materials instructors who conduct hazardous materials training programs for first responders.  
  • $1.3 million in Community Safety grants to support projects that enhance the capabilities of communities to respond to hazardous materials emergencies and the training of state and local enforcement personnel responsible for enforcing the safe transport of hazardous materials.  


Related Articles


{{ error }}
{{ comment.comment.Name }} • {{ comment.timeAgo }}
{{ comment.comment.Text }}