On August 25, 2011, the Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (“PHMSA”) issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (“ANPR”) related to its safety program for natural gas transmission pipelines.  The ANPR asks for comment on various questions concerning whether pipeline integrity management (“IM”) requirements and other regulatory requirements relating to system integrity should be enhanced.  Written comments are due by December 2, 2011, though parties have already requested additional time to submit comments.

The PHMSA administers a series of statutes known as the Pipeline Safety Laws, which are minimum safety standards for transportation of gas by pipeline.  PHMSA notes that IM requirements have increased the level of safety concerning the transportation of gas in high consequence areas (“HCAs”).   Despite these efforts, incidents continue to occur, including a September 9, 2010 incident in San Bruno, California.  The San Bruno incident and others in Allentown, Pennsylvania and Marshall, Michigan have prompted renewed discussion of how to manage pipeline incidents. 

The ANPR seeks public comment on 14 specific topics within two broad categories: (1) should IM requirements be revised and strengthened to bring more pipeline mileage under IM requirements and to better assure safety of pipeline segments in HCAs; and (2) should non-IM requirements be strengthened or expanded to address other issues associated with pipeline system integrity?  Each broad category includes specific topics such as: modifying the definition of an HCA, modifying repair criteria, revising the requirements for collecting, validating and integrating pipeline data, valve spacing and the need for remotely or automatically controlled valves, corrosion control, and more.

In a related move toward pipeline safety, the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee voted unanimously on Wednesday September 21, 2011 to approve the Pipeline Infrastructure and Community Protection Act.  This bill would require certain safety technology, help ensure pipeline damage prevention, and address penalties for major consequence violations, among a variety of measures. Representatives Fred Upton (R-Mich) and John Dingell (D-Mich.) introduced an amendment to the Bill requiring that the U.S. Department of Transportation examine whether pipelines beneath waterways more than 100 feet wide are buried deep enough to prevent leaks.

A copy of the ANPRM is available here.

A copy of the Pipeline Infrastructure and Community Protection Act of 2011 is available here.