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US safety agency proposes gas pipeline rule changes to fulfill Trump order

Federal regulators proposed a series of revisions to gas pipeline safety rules in order to fulfill President Donald Trump's executive orders to ease regulatory burdens and promote U.S. energy development.

The proposals from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, include changes to federal rules that govern pipeline integrity management, corrosion monitoring and incident reporting. The agency made its recommendations in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on May 28, roughly six weeks after proposing changes to hazardous liquids pipeline rules.

PHMSA said it expects the revisions to "reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens, increase flexibility and efficiency, and add clarity to existing regulations." It estimated the changes would yield $129 million in quantified annualized cost savings at a 7% discount rate, or $132 million at a 3% discount rate.

SNL Image

PHMSA proposed changes to hazardous liquids and natural gas pipeline rules after President Donald Trump ordered federal agencies to "alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens" and promote the development of U.S. energy resources.
Source: AP Photo

PHMSA proposed easing Distribution Integrity Management Program, or DIMP, rules for certain gas distribution equipment operators, including service lines that branch off transmission and gathering lines to serve individual customers, known as farm taps. Farm tap operators connected to regulated lines would have more options to meet safety regulations, while those linked to unregulated lines would be exempt from many DIMP rules.

The agency would also waive DIMP requirements for operators of master meter systems, or distribution systems operated by entities such as apartment complex or mobile home park owners.

Like the changes to hazardous liquids rules, PHMSA proposed changing the property damage threshold that determines when gas pipeline operators must report an event. Operators now must report an event when it causes $50,000 in damage, a level set in 1984. The new threshold would be $122,000, reflecting inflation since 1984, and PHMSA would periodically update that level.

Any event that results in fatality, injury that requires hospitalization or a gas release of 3 MMcf or larger would still qualify as an incident. The agency estimated that changing the property damage threshold would reduce the overall number of events reportable as incidents by roughly 25%. It would roughly halve the number of reported incidents in which property damage is the only consequence.

Another proposal would no longer require operators to submit mechanical fitting failure reports or include a count of the failures in annual reports. The agency said these are mostly low-consequence events, and operators would still need to report mechanical fitting failure events that qualify as incidents.

PHMSA also proposed a pair of revisions to pipeline corrosion control rules. The first would clarify that operators can remotely monitor cathodic protection rectifiers, or devices that prevent external corrosion. The second would allow operators to inspect pipelines exposed to the atmosphere every five years instead of every three years, provided they did not find atmospheric corrosion during the last inspection.

The agency would also change rules that prohibit welders from performing welding processes if they have not used the process in the last six months. It proposed changing the length of time to seven and a half months, so long as the welder's last work was inspected and found acceptable by industry standards.

PHMSA would incorporate new ASTM International standards, including for the design and heat fusion joining of polyethylene pipe and fittings. It would also revise pressure vessel test requirements to make them consistent with industry standards. Last, it would extend permission to test fabricated units and short segments of pipe before installation on steel pipelines.