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PHMSA codifies industry standards for pipeline inspections, updates other rules

The federal pipeline safety regulator on Jan. 17 announced that it adopted industry standards into regulation for certain kinds of inspections and laid out timelines for reporting incidents.

In a final rule slated for publication in the Federal Register on Jan. 23, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration incorporated by reference consensus standards for in-line inspection tools used to assess the internal conditions of pipelines. PHMSA said the American Petroleum Institute standards are more comprehensive than the requirements on the books and codifying them will improve safety through consistency in training, processes and software for in-line inspections.

The agency said the rule update should not affect company costs because the standards should help operators eliminate problems before they arise.

Fulfilling congressional mandates, PHMSA will also now require operators to report an accident or incident within an hour of determining that something has gone wrong. Although operators should provide PHMSA with a preliminary assessment of the incident's impacts, companies will also have 48 hours to give the agency a revised estimate of how much product has been lost in an incident, how many fatalities and injuries there were, and any other significant facts.

PHMSA also incorporated by reference industry standards for assessing certain corrosion-related cracking on pipelines. Again, the industry practices are more comprehensive and more rigorous than the existing federal rules, the regulator said. PHMSA acknowledged that the standards likely do not address all relevant aspects of evaluating this corrosion cracking, but the agency said it wanted to improve the standards sooner rather than later and would update the rules as more information emerged.

In the version of the rule PHMSA proposed in 2015, the agency planned to update operator qualification requirements, clarifying the level of supervision and training workers need to perform specific tasks. However, PHMSA decided it needed more time to weigh the comments it received on the operator qualification changes and will instead update those rules in separate rule to be "published in the near future."