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PHMSA administrator working to align agency with evolving pipe industry

Marie Therese Dominguez, administrator at the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration

Source: PHMSA

Marie ThereseDominguez's first year as administrator at the U.S. Pipeline and HazardousMaterials Safety Administration was a dynamic one. Under her watch, PHMSAreleased an extensive andlong-awaited rule proposal governing gas transmission and gatheringlines, and after sustained congressional scrutiny of her agency, federallawmakers reauthorized the pipeline safety for the next few years.

PHMSA has alsoundertaken an internal reorganization program, known as PHMSA 2021, aiming tostreamline rulemaking, improve communication and make better use of data tobecome more proactive.  

S&P Global caughtup with Dominguez at the National Association of Pipeline SafetyRepresentatives' annual meeting in Indianapolis. The following is an editedtranscript of that conversation.

S&P Global: Howdoes the recently proposed gas transmission and gas gathering pipelinesrulemaking fit with your goal of having PHMSA be more predictive and proactive?

Dominguez: We'vegot a lot of lessons learned from some significant accidents, and how [do] weapply that using the data we have?

We've got so many people living so much closer to pipelinesthan we ever have in the past, and it's because we've had a populationexplosion. … We look at understanding where people are moving, understandingdemographics … That's one of those analytic capabilities [in which] we'reactually looking at what's going on in the country — where people are living[and] where industry is going in terms of delivery mechanisms, whether it'sexisting pipe, or new pipe that they're trying to build.

One of the things we're putting some effort behind is thatanalytic capability. … We've got some good people on board now. We just hired achief data officer and a chief economist. They're going to help flesh some ofthat out. The bottom line is it informs our rulemaking.  

The pipeline industryis installing a great deal of new pipe, both as part of infrastructureexpansion projects and infrastructure replacement efforts. What uniquechallenges are therein regulating the installation of new pipe, as compared to aginginfrastructure?

They're both really important. We have a mission in bothareas. Our mission for new pipe is really making sure that the design, theoperations actually are completely compliant with our code. Whether it's newpipe or replacing aging infrastructure … it's an investment. It's an investmentfor the state, it's an investment for the local government, but more fundamentallyor importantly, it's an investment for individuals. We want to keep peoplesafe. We've got to balance the new with the old and recognize that it's allpart of that larger safety picture.

PHMSA brought theissue of curbing methane emissions into the gas transmission and gathering linerule. Are methane emissions getting to be a bigger part of what you use whenevaluating the benefits of a rulemaking?

I think more importantly it's an acknowledgement of some ofthis aging infrastructure as well. We've got to make sure we're looking at allof the different things that are going on in any given pipeline.

PHMSA's relationshipwith Congress was fairly rocky for a few years, but in the hearings I've seen sinceyou've been administrator, the tone has changed. It's been a bit more , a bit moreconstructive. Do you think PHMSA's internal restructuringefforts and increased focus on data analysis are helping with that?How do you foresee PHMSA's relationship with Congress going?

Part of it is the engagement factor. Congress hasreauthorized both of our safety programs, so we've had opportunity to work withthem not only on our funding but literally on the reauthorization of our twomajor programs. We got a lot of great stuff in the [Fixing America's SurfaceTransportation, or] FAST Act for the hazmat program, and then the [Pipelinesand Enhancing Safety, or] PIPES Act. … It was a really good reauthorization.

The bottom line is the more we're able to engage — we'realso trying to complete a number of the requirements that Congress asked us todo, so providing updates on where we are and what we're doing is that level ofcommunication. … They're a key stakeholder.