This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features a timely discussion of the new PHMSA pipeline safety rules with industry expert Keith Coyle and host Russel Treat.
In this episode, you will learn how the PHMSA rulemaking process works, more about the three new PHMSA rules published to the federal registry in October 2019, and how PHMSA handles emergency orders.
You will also learn about the critical difference between MCA and HCA in gas transmission pipelines, plus more details on the timing of pipeline reauthorization heading into the 2020 U.S. election season.
New PHMSA Pipeline Safety Rules Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms
- Keith Coyle is a shareholder and attorney with the Babst Calland law firm. Mr. Coyle is a member of the firm’s Washington, D.C. office and a shareholder in the Energy and Natural Resources, Environmental and Transportation Safety groups and Pipeline and HazMat Safety practice. [Connect with Mr. Coyle on LinkedIn]
- PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) is responsible for providing pipeline safety oversight through regulatory rulemaking, NTSB recommendations, and other important functions to protect people and the environment through the safe transportation of energy and other hazardous materials.
- October 1, 2019: PHMSA published three new safety regulations to the federal registry.
- Safety of Gas Transmission Pipelines (Part 1 of the Gas Gathering Rule)
- Safety of Hazardous Liquid Pipelines
- Enhanced Emergency Order Procedures
- October 1, 2019: PHMSA published three new safety regulations to the federal registry.
- Administrative Procedure Act (APA) is the United States federal statute that governs the way in which administrative agencies of the federal government of the United States may propose and establish regulations and grants U.S. federal courts oversight over all agency actions.
- Gas Pipeline Advisory Committee (GPAC) reviews PHMSA’s proposed regulatory initiatives to assure the technical feasibility, reasonableness, cost-effectiveness, and practicability of each proposal. The committee also evaluates the cost-benefit analysis and risk assessment information of the proposals.
- Liquid Pipeline Advisory Committee (LPAC) reviews PHMSA’s proposed regulatory initiatives to assure the technical feasibility, reasonableness, cost-effectiveness, and practicability of each proposal. The committee also evaluates the cost-benefit analysis and risk assessment information of the proposals.
- The Pipeline Safety Act of 1968 was the first federal law authorized by the U.S. Congress to prescribe safety standards for the transportation of natural and other gas by pipeline, and for other purposes.
- Federal Register is the official journal of the federal government of the United States that contains government agency rules, proposed rules, and public notices.
- Federal Advisory Committee Act is a United States federal law that governs the behavior of federal advisory committees.
- Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is the codification of the general and permanent rules published in the Federal Register by the departments and agencies of the Federal Government.
- Maximum Allowable Operating Pressure (MAOP) is a pressure limit set, usually by a government body, which applies to compressed gas pressure vessels, pipelines, and storage tanks.
- HCA is High Consequence Areas of gas transmission pipelines.
- MCA is Moderate Consequence Areas of gas transmission pipelines.
- ILI (Inline Inspection) is a method to assess the integrity and condition of a pipe by determining the existence of cracks, deformities, or other structural issues that could cause a leak.
- Pigging refers to using devices known as “pigs” to perform maintenance operations. This tool associated with inline pipeline inspection has now become known as a Pipeline Inspection Gauge (PIG).
- The San Bruno or PG&E Incident in September 2010 refers to a ruptured pipeline operated by the Pacific Gas & Electric Company. The rupture created a crater near San Bruno, California, caused an explosion after natural gas was released and ignited, and resulted in fires causing loss to life and property. [Read the full NTSB Accident Report.]
- The Marshall Incident refers to the Enbridge Incorporated Hazardous Liquid Rupture and Release incident, which occurred on July 25, 2010, in Marshall, Michigan. [Read the full NTSB Accident Report]
- The Merrimack Valley gas explosion in Massachusetts in September 2018 was the result of excessive pressure build-up in a natural gas pipeline owned by Columbia Gas that led to a series of explosions and fires. [Read the preliminary NTSB Accident Report]
New PHMSA Pipeline Safety Rules Full Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 97, sponsored by EnerSys Corporation, providers of POEMS, the Pipeline Operations Excellence Management System, SCADA compliance, and operations software for the pipeline control center. Find out more about POEMS at enersyscorp.com.
Announcer: The Pipeliners Podcast, where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations.
Now, your host, Russel Treat.
Russel: Thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. I appreciate you taking the time, and to show that appreciation, we’re giving away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener each episode. This week, our winner is Brandon Sternadel with Plains All American Pipeline. Congratulations, Brandon, your YETI is on its way.
This week, we have Keith Coyle coming back with us to talk about the recently enacted PHMSA rules for gas transmission and liquid pipelines. With that, let’s welcome Keith Coyle.
Keith Coyle: Thanks for having me on again, Russel. Looking forward to it.
Russel: We have big news. PHMSA just published three new rules. I say “new.” They’ve been coming down the line for quite some time. They’re new in terms of, they’re officially in the CFR, so it’s time to talk about them. That’s why I asked you back.
Keith: Yeah, we’ve been waiting for two of these rules for more than eight years. The third one’s been a few years in the waiting, too. It’s a pretty big day for PHMSA. They don’t often issue significant final rules. They certainly don’t usually do two of them on the same day and then throw a third on top. It’s going to keep the lawyers pretty busy for a while.
Russel: [laughs] Not just the lawyers. It’s going to keep a lot of people busy. Before we dive into the specifics, maybe you can give our listeners just a high level overview of how the whole PHMSA rulemaking process actually works.
Keith: Sure. Like most federal agencies, PHMSA follows a statute that’s known as the Administrative Procedure Act, or APA. The APA requires federal agencies to follow a notice and comment rulemaking process when they establish new regulations. Under the notice and comment rulemaking process, the first step is to place the rulemaking proposal in the Federal Register so that the public can review the proposed rule and provide comments.
The Agency looks at those comments on the proposed rule and develops a final rule, which is published again in the Federal Register. That final rule will have the force and effect of law.
There’s some narrow circumstances or exceptions where the Agency can skip the notice and comment rulemaking process if there is good cause. One of the final rules that PHMSA issued earlier this month was actually issued under that good cause exception. They were able to skip the notice and comment process at an earlier point in the proceeding.
PHMSA is also required to follow specific rulemaking requirements in the Pipeline Safety Act. Those requirements supplement the APA provisions. For example, Congress will tell PHMSA to consider certain factors in issuing regulations or to issue a regulation on a specific topic.
That’s not required under the APA. That’s a directive from Congress that’s specific to PHMSA to go out and do something or to examine something beyond the APA.
Russel: Yeah, I think the other thing that’s interesting about the PHMSA process is the GPAC and the LPAC, the Pipeline Advisory Committees. I don’t know that other agencies have that, though. That’s a very big part of the PHMSA rulemaking process.
Keith: Yeah, there are some other advisory committees in the federal government. There’s another statute called the Federal Advisory Committee Act. There are specific advisory committees that are authorized under other statutes for particular agencies.
The PHMSA advisory committees, the Gas and Liquids Advisory Committees, they play a role in the rulemaking process by reviewing and providing nonbinding recommendations on rulemaking proposals.
When PHMSA puts a proposed rule in the Federal Register and reviews the comments, before they can issue a final rule, they need to present that to the advisory committees for review and consideration. It’s an extra step in the PHMSA process. It’s pretty unique.
Russel: Yeah, and it requires that those committees actually formalize their recommendations to PHMSA related to the rule and the comment. I find that process fascinating, frankly.
Keith: Yeah, there’s a specific requirement in the Pipeline Safety Act that requires those committees to develop reports on the technical feasibility and appropriateness of proposed rules. They’re also supposed to consider specifically the cost benefit that’s associated with proposed rules and other specific requirements.
They’re, by statute, directed to be involved in the rulemaking process. I think that, for the most part, that’s been to the agency’s benefit and to the public’s benefit.
Russel: I would agree. I would say it’s also to the industry’s benefit, the way that whole process works. It’s always interesting when you work in the industry, you go to something like that, and then you hear from what I’ll call the reasonable public, those that have some engineering and do listen to fact, but form their own unique opinion, given other input.
It’s actually how I think our government was designed to work, frankly.
Keith: Yeah, and it’s a public process, too. They have these public meetings, so you get to see a little bit how the sausage is made out in public. You don’t usually have a seat at the table when these rules are being developed, unless you work at the agency. GPAC and LPAC are unique in that way as well.
Russel: Very much so. Great background. That’s helpful. It’s taken us eight years on some of these rules to get through that process that you just outlined in a few minutes. [laughs] We are now, we have three new rules out.
Maybe you could give us an overview of what those three rules are, and then I’m going to want to ask some more specific questions about those rules.
Keith: Sure. There were three rules that were published in the Federal Register on October 1st. Two of those rules contained substantive changes to the safety standards that apply to gas pipelines and hazardous liquid pipelines.
The third rule changes the procedural requirements that apply to the issuance of emergency orders. I think the first two rules are more important, or more impactful, particularly for the listeners of your podcast.
I’ll probably focus on those, at least in the beginning here. The first rule, which was a very significant rule, contains changes to the regulations for gas transmission lines. Now, this is the first part in a broader rule that was previously known as the Mega Rule.
It was a rulemaking that PHMSA started back in 2012. The primary driver for the gas transmission line rule was a significant pipeline incident that happened out in San Bruno, California back in 2010. There were some fatalities, injuries, and destruction of homes.
That incident spun up a National Transportation Safety Board investigation that resulted in some safety recommendations related to gas transmission. It also led Congress to include some new mandates in the Pipeline Safety Act to PHMSA to go out and do specific regulations on certain topics.
That gas transmission rule, the first part that came out earlier this month, that addresses the NTSB’s safety recommendations and congressional mandates that came out of San Bruno. The two most important parts of that rule, I think, are the requirements related to verification of pipeline materials.
Then there’s another requirement related to re confirming maximum allowable operating pressure for gas transmission lines. We can dive into the details a little bit as we evolve the discussion. The second rule that was very significant is a rule that contained changes to the safety standards for hazardous liquid pipelines.
That rulemaking proceeding was also driven by another very significant pipeline accident that happened in Marshall, Michigan a few years ago. It was actually the largest, I believe, onshore liquids pipeline failure in U.S. history.
Again, there was an NTSB investigation of that incident, which led to some safety recommendations. Those safety recommendations ended up in congressional mandates, telling PHMSA to go out and do new rules.
A lot of those topics are what are addressed in the liquids final rule that came out earlier this month. Then the third, final rule is one that specifically includes new requirements for the issuance of emergency orders. PHMSA received new authority to issue emergency orders in the 2016 reauthorization of the Pipeline Safety Act.
Emergency orders are unique in that it allows PHMSA to basically address imminent hazards that could have an impact industry-wide. These emergency orders, there are other agencies within the federal government that have similar powers.
It allows PHMSA to issue an order that can impact the whole industry. The rules that came out the other day dictate how those orders are issued and what the process is to get review at the agency level and then in the courts.
Russel: That would be similar to the FAA’s ability to ground aircraft when they find an issue that needs to be inspected in all aircraft, right?
Keith: Yes. The Federal Railroad Administration has a similar statute. The HAZMAT portion of PHMSA has a statute. This is the “in case of emergency, break glass” provision. This is not something that should be used on a regular or ordinary basis. It should be reserved truly for significant, imminent hazards.
Russel: Yeah. I don’t know the details of what might cause something like that in a pipeline situation. It’s a little easier with aircraft, because it’s something that probably most of us are closer to. There’s a lot of airlines that are struggling right now because of the aircraft with the software issue that still hasn’t gotten approved back to flight ready.
Some airlines are really struggling with that, because they’ve got a lot of equipment they can’t fly.
Keith: That’s one of the unknowns with the emergency order authority, is when would PHMSA use it? Obviously, if there’s a known issue with pipe, components, a particular kind of valve, or something like that, like a recall situation, you could see it being used there.
Some of these other instances, where now that PHMSA has this authority, is there going to be a temptation to use it more often after accidents? We’ll see. Time will tell.
Russel: Just so the listeners now, we’re going to link these rules up, so that they’re easy to find. You won’t have to navigate through the CFR, trying to find them. We’re going to link them up. I guess, probably, what I’d like to do next, let’s talk about the gas rule first.
I’m going to ask, what do you think are some of the most important changes or new requirements that the industry ought to be aware of that are in the new gas rule?
Keith: In the gas rule, there are two significant changes, both of which I already discussed, relating to materials verification and MAOP reconfirmation. Then there’s another provision that requires assessments of pipelines in areas located outside of high consequence areas, including in newly defined moderate consequence areas.
I’ll start with materials verification. This is a regulation that is designed to address one of the issues that arose as a result of the San Bruno failure, where the operator of that system had pipe in the ground, and they didn’t know exactly what the materials were in that pipe.
One of the safety recommendations and congressional mandates that came out of the investigation and directives to PHMSA was, “Go set up a process where, if an operator finds itself in a situation where they don’t know what they have in the ground, give them a process to go out and verify the pipeline materials.”
That’s what this rule is designed to do. One of the important concepts that’s folded into the rule itself is traceable, verifiable, and complete records. That is another standard that came out of the San Bruno investigation.
Basically, telling operators, “If you don’t have traceable, verifiable, and complete records for materials information, you need to put together a materials verification plan, and you need to go out and do whatever tests, inspections, or assessments are necessary to obtain that information.”
Now, the thing that is good about the materials verification rule is it allows operators to do that opportunistically over time. If you’re going out and already excavating pipe for some other purpose, you can execute part of your materials verification process in connection with that excavation.
Instead of telling everybody to go out and start digging out pipe for no other reason, the way the rule is set up is it says, if you’re already out there excavating for some other purpose, start to execute your materials verification plan.
Then there are some requirements dictating how much sampling and testing you have to do over time in order to treat something as verified. That’s a pretty big change. That’s a process that wasn’t in the regulations before.
The second big change was MAOP reconfirmation. Again, this was another San Bruno related issue. One of the things that came out of that investigation was there is a grandfather clause in the pipeline safety regulations that allows pipelines installed before the rules were in place in 1970 to operate under a grandfathered pressure, even if they didn’t receive a hydrostatic pressure test.
These grandfathered pipelines, they’re operating based on a pressure that the pipeline experienced between 1965 and 1970. MAOP reconfirmation, one of the provisions, says if you’re using one of these grandfathered operating pressures, and you’re in a higher risk location, you need to go out and reconfirm or re-establish MAOP, using one of the six methods provided in the rule.
The rule also requires MAOP reconfirmation in certain situations if you don’t have traceable, verifiable, and complete design records. Now, this is another situation where PHMSA gave operators a really long lead time to comply.
This is a 14-year program for MAOP reconfirmation. You have to do 50 percent of your pipe in the first seven years, and then the remainder in the next seven years. I think that that part of the rule is very helpful to industry in organizing its affairs and executing things going forward.
Russel: Do you think that PHMSA will be looking for the operators to have some sense of how they prioritize how they get their records squared away?
Keith: Yes. One of the things that a lot of the analysis of traceable, verifiable, and complete records from operators has already been done. There were some earlier congressional mandates that directed operators to go out, analyze their records, find where the gaps are.
A lot of companies already have a very good sense of where their records are lacking or what pipe they have that are relying on the grandfather clause. They should have a pretty good sense of that. The final rule adjusted some of the criteria that applied to bring you into the rule.
They should have a good sense of what pipe is going to be covered. Then, I think PHMSA’s expectation would be that you would execute the plan in an orderly fashion. You would want to, like any prudent operator would want to address pipe in a risk based fashion. You wouldn’t want to leave your riskiest pipe to year 13 of the plan.
You’d want to try to front load that. I think most would do that.
Russel: Get the stuff in the HCA first, get the rule stuff last, that kind of thing.
Keith: Yeah. The rule itself is limited to higher risk locations, which is good. HCAs, class three and fours, and then, in some situations, these new MCAs. I think PHMSA’s expectation, and prudent operators are going to try to organize MAOP reconfirmation based on pipe within those locations that present some higher levels of risk, and then fold it out over time.
Russel: Yes, perfect. Maybe we can give a little bit of an overview, likewise of what is an MCA, and how is it different than an HCA? How do you think that’s going to affect things?
Keith: The new requirements for pipeline assessments outside of high consequence areas are designed to take some of the elements from the integrity management program requirements — which are well established at this point. They’ve been in the regulations since the early 2000s — and apply those provisions to the next tranche of risk in the system.
That’s what led PHMSA to come up with this concept of moderate consequence areas, or MCAs. The shorthand to try to think of it is what PHMSA used in setting up the criteria for MCAs was a lot like what they used for HCAs.
They reduced the occupancy thresholds, or they use thresholds. It’s like a half an MCA or a half an HCA. Then they folded into the MCA requirements certain kinds of roadways that are also treated now as MCAs.
Primarily in response to an incident that affected a Columbia gas pipeline Sissonville, West Virginia, that caused some damage to a nearby, I believe it was a highway. Under the HCA definition, there’s no accounting, necessarily, for roads or things like that.
NTSB highlighted that as an area of concern, and so PHMSA folded into the MCA definition consideration of certain kinds of roadways, and designating those areas as HCAs.
Russel: Was the gas gathering rule part of what came out on October 1st, or are we still waiting for that to get into the CFR?
Keith: We are still waiting for gas gathering. The most noteworthy gathering related aspect in the rule that came out earlier this month are the exceptions for gathering. There were a lot of exceptions that were put in this first rule that carved out requirements to make clear that they do not apply to gathering.
For example, there are exceptions in MAOP reconfirmation, materials verification that are specific to gathering. These rules do not apply to gathering. Gathering was originally consolidated with these transmission line rules, but PHMSA decided — I think, and very wisely — to break this mega rule up into three pieces.
The transmission rule that came out earlier this month is the first part. We’re going to see another final rule that’s going to contain more changes to the transmission line requirements. That’ll come out next. Then the final train in the rulemaking process is going to be the gathering line provisions.
That one, we may see that next year. We may not. PHMSA just looked at the gathering proposal a couple of months ago at the GPAC process. They’re still receiving post-GPAC comments on what was discussed there. I think that rule could be a little down the road a little bit farther.
Russel: I’m wagering that it’s going to happen sooner, rather than later.
Russel: That’s a guess, right? None of us actually know.
Keith: My experience with federal rules is to always bet the over.
Russel: [laughs] If you’re going to make money gambling, that would be the way to go. You wouldn’t want to bet the under, for sure.
Keith: You would not. You would not.
Russel: I just know that, with the pipeline reauthorization going on, and with some of the, I would guess, the buzz that I hear, there’s a lot of pressure to move these things forward.
Keith: I think reauthorization moving this year was one of the drivers that helped to bring this transmission line rule across the finish line. All of these congressional mandates, we usually have deadlines with them.
The deadlines that were included for the San Bruno related mandates have passed many years ago. Congress does not like it when federal agencies miss deadlines.
Russel: No. No, if you want to get a sense of that, go back and watch the testimony of Skip Elliott before the committees right after he became administrator of PHMSA. [laughs] I would not have wanted to be in that chair. That was the definition of a hot seat.
Keith: They get beat up pretty badly on the Hill when they miss those deadlines, but then that gives them an incentive to go back to some of the other players involved in the rulemaking process and say, “Hey, look. I don’t want to go back up to Congress again and have to take a line of questioning like that, so help me get this rule across the finish line.”
Keith: It was really good to see them get those three rules out earlier this month, we were waiting quite a while for.
Russel: Could you give us an overview of what’s in the liquids side of the rule?
Keith: The liquids side of the rule, the story is a lot like what happened with the gas rule. You had a significant failure in Marshall, Michigan, several years ago. There was an NTSB investigation, resulted in some safety recommendations.
Then you saw some congressional mandates. The mandates weren’t as extensive or significant as what we saw on the San Bruno side, but that event and those mandates helped to move this rulemaking process on the liquids side forward.
What you’ll see in the liquids rule are some new reporting requirements that apply to previously exempt pipelines. That’s going to include gravity lines, and certain unrelated gathering lines are now going to have to start filing these reports with PHMSA. That’s a change.
There’s also provisions in the liquids rule that require operators to do inspections after extreme weather events. This is a new 72-hour, post extreme event inspection requirement. There’s some nuance in the rule as to when you may be able to extend the deadline, and what sort of inspections and assessment you need to do, but that’s a new wrinkle.
There is also a requirement for conducting pipeline assessment for non-integrity management segments. This is the same concept where PHMSA is taking the original integrity management principles and trying to expand those to the next tranche of pipelines in the system.
There are also some provisions related to installation of leak detection systems, which is something that has received a lot of attention in recent years. Then there’s a provision about modifying pipelines to accommodate inline inspection tools.
This is something driving it out. I think there’s a 20-year deadline on that, but just to make as much pipe as we can, capable of accommodating inline inspection tools, you’re always going to have a certain amount of pipe that can’t accommodate ILI tools.
They want to try to make it so that the systems are all capable of accommodating ILI, because that’s the best way to get information about the condition of the pipe, at least based on the current technology.
Russel: I would say that anybody building anything new is going to have to make sure it’s built to be able to be fully piggable.
Keith: You see that, for the most part, with again limited exceptions for station piping or things like that. There are some scenarios where you can’t make it ILI or piggable, but I agree with you. Most everybody that’s building new systems is doing it to accommodate the ILIs, because they want the data to know the health of the pipeline as much as the regulators do.
Russel: Can you tell me, or do you know the details of, what additional lines are going to be subject to leak detection that are not currently subject to leak detection?
Keith: The way that the rule is set up, it has a compliance deadline that applies to systems that are constructed before October 1st, 2019, and then, for systems that are constructed on or after October 1st, 2019, they give you two compliance deadlines.
One is October 1st, 2020. The other one is October 1st, 2024. The requirement is, I think it’s designed to be flexible. Basically, it requires operators to perform an evaluation of these systems and then make a decision as to what systems are best suited to protect the public and the environment.
There is another leak detection rule. It’s a valve and rupture detection rule that PHMSA is working on. That is in the proposed rule stage. It hasn’t been issued. That one will probably include more aggressive — or it could include more aggressive — leak and rupture detection requirements.
My understanding was this was the initial way of trying to expand leak detection to more pipelines, but that we’ll probably see something with more rigor and detail down the road. PHMSA’s done some pretty detailed leak detection studies in recent years.
They’re trying to get their arms around what the technology is and then figure out, what’s a reasonable approach for leak detection? They need to have something with teeth, but not something that’s achievable, that doesn’t set a standard that people can’t meet.
Russel: Right. We also have the recent API standard — I say relatively recent API standard — for leak detection program management. There’s lots of different ways to do leak detection. The question is always what is the most appropriate, given the risk?
Keith: Yeah, and then it’s how does PHMSA drive performance to a better outcome? Is it going to be some kind of “you need to detect a leak of this volume, you need to respond within this amount of time?” There’s a lot different ways of doing it. I hope that the agency doesn’t try to mandate specific technologies.
Russel: My guess is people will stay away from that, although I do think it’ll be interesting, as the rupture part of the rule starts coming through the comment process, do we get to the place where there’s a distinction between rupture detection versus leak detection?
Keith: Then I think the other thing, too, is cost is always going to be a concern. I know that industry, we focus very much on safety. One of the issues that comes into is making sure that whatever outcomes are being driven are outcomes that are cost achievable or technologically feasible.
PHMSA, I think the rules that came out earlier in the month show that PHMSA, they adjusted tact on a lot of the proposals in the rules and made them better. Hopefully, that’s the trend on valve and rupture detection.
Russel: Exactly. I think that’s well said. What do you see? We talked a little bit about what’s coming up. What do you think, what other things do you see on the horizon that may be coming down as additional rulemakings?
Keith: I think one of the things that’s going to start to weigh in here pretty soon in D.C. is going to be the 2020 election. The federal agencies don’t do as many controversial things, or not as many things move, during election years.
2020 could be a slower year, at least on rules. You may see some other things, guidance documents, enforcement related things, but you may see a slowdown on some of these rules in the election year. Then in terms of what PHMSA’s got in the queue, we already talked about valve and rupture detection.
PHMSA’s talked about doing a rulemaking related to the class location requirements for gas pipelines, modernizing those requirements, particularly in circumstances where you have a change in class location that might require an operator to replace pipe.
Is there a way that we can use integrity management principles, or some form of that, to avoid pipe replacements, particularly where they don’t make sense? That’s another issue. Reauthorization, whenever that gets passed by Congress, it looks like reauthorization is going to include some provisions related to gas distribution systems.
Specifically in response to the incident that occurred in Merrimack Valley in Massachusetts. I think that was a couple of months ago. It might even have been last year now. There are some provisions, at least in the draft bills now, that are going to require some rulemakings related to gas distribution.
We were hoping to see pipeline reauthorization before the expiration date, which was at the end of September. We didn’t see that. There’s been some talk in D.C. about whether, and to what extent, we’ll see reauthorization again in 2020, with the election coming, or whether we’re looking at seeing reauthorization further out.
We’ll see, but I do think, whenever reauthorization is enacted, there will be additional rulemaking mandates that will require PHMSA to do things, and gas distribution is going to be one of the topics.
Russel: I can certainly see that. I think the other thing that is interesting to me is, beyond just what PHMSA’s doing around the pipe that’s regulated, there’s also a lot of interest from the public.
I’m talking when you go to the GPAC, the folks representing the public, about gathering more information about what pipe exists, and what’s the nature of the pipe that exists?
Russel: Particularly in the smaller pipeline sizes.
Keith: We’ve seen a bigger push for information on pipeline mapping, a push to have more information that operators provide available to the public for review. We’ve seen that at the state level, too.
I think we’re going to continue to see a push from public interest groups for more transparency in terms of giving the public more information about where pipelines are located, how they’re operated, and what they’re carrying, particularly as we see a lot of build out in states that aren’t traditional oil and gas states.
Particularly states in the Northeast, where these issues have been generating much more concern. Places like Pennsylvania and New York, where they really — you’re getting a push for more information, more transparency about pipelines.
Russel: I think there’s a public perception or expectation, if you would. Everybody uses Google Maps on their phone, and that creates certain expectations about how difficult should it be to know where the pipes are what they are?
Technology is causing the expectations to change, and the regulators and the industry is trying to adapt because of that.
Keith: Then you have concerns on the other side of the equation with how much information is too much information, particularly in terms of pipeline location? We don’t want to discourage people from making one call, for instance.
If they think they have an app that tells them where every pipeline is, and then they start going out and digging, and they hit a pipeline, that’s not good for anybody. Then there’s other security related issues with critical infrastructure and how accessible should that information be?
The way that the pipeline mapping system is set up now that PHMSA administers, there are limitations on how granular, how specific you can get on the pipeline viewer, for security reasons.
Russel: Exactly. That’s one of those things, like a lot of things, it’s easy until you know enough about it.
Keith: Yeah, right.
Russel: Hey, Keith, I appreciate this. You have actually probably made my reading over the weekend a little easier to accomplish, because I have a little background before I dive in.
Russel: This has been great. I really appreciate it.
Keith: Thanks for having me on. It’s always good catching up with you. Don’t try to read these things too late at night. You’ll fall asleep, like I do, on the Federal Register.
Russel: [laughs] Sometimes, that’s an excellent fix for insomnia.
Keith: Yes, definitely, definitely.
Russel: All right. Great to have you, and I’m sure we’ll be asking you back as more things change.
Keith: Thanks, Russel. Talk to you soon.
Russel: Hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Keith Coyle. Just a reminder before you go. You should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit pipelinepodcastnetwork.com/win to enter yourself in the drawing.
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Russel: If you have ideas, questions, or topics you’d be interested in, please let me know on the contact us page at pipelinepodcastnetwork.com, or reach out to me directly on LinkedIn. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.
Transcription by CastingWords