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Long-awaited federal pipeline safety rule advances to OMB review

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Long-awaited federal pipeline safety rule advances to OMB review

The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's beleaguered natural gas transmission pipeline safety rulemaking appears to be making progress, according to a May 22 notice indicating that the rule is undergoing review at the White House's Office of Management and Budget.

The administration, or PHMSA, is soon up for congressional reevaluation and reauthorization, and the agency has recently come under criticism from lawmakers for falling behind on previously congressional mandated regulations on hazardous liquids, gas transmission and valve rupture detection. Movement on the gas transmission rule might ease some of the congressional pressure on the agency as lawmakers assess PHMSA's efficacy. The agency depends on periodic congressional reauthorization to remain in existence and retain its safety oversight authority over the nation's pipeline systems.

Many components of the gas transmission safety rule were congressionally mandated in a reauthorization act that was signed into law in early 2012. The mandates in part were geared towards preventing accidents similar to the 2010 San Bruno, Calif., pipeline explosion that killed eight people.

The May 22 notice was welcomed by the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, or INGAA, which has participated in stakeholders' forums to develop the rule and has pushed for action and regulatory certainty from the agency.

"When finalized, this rule will constitute the most significant enhancement to PHMSA natural gas transmission pipeline safety regulations since the federal code was promulgated in 1970," INGAA President Don Santa said in an emailed statement.

"Our industry is committed to transporting natural gas in a safe, reliable and environmentally responsible manner, and we are proud to have worked for several years with a broad array of stakeholders, including safety and environmental advocates, to achieve consensus on this important rule," Santa said.

INGAA said the rule is now in the final stages, and the office of the secretary of transportation has completed its review.

INGAA and other oil and gas groups joined with pipeline safety advocates to write to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in February, encouraging her to advance the regulation. The rule will help promote the use of modern pipeline inspection technologies and set requirements for operators to test certain existing pipelines to ensure they meet current standards, they said.