This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features Keith Coyle and Gary Steinbaurer discussing PHMSA’s recent Gas and Pipeline Leak Detection and Repair Rule, what exactly the rule consists of, how it is going to affect detecting leaks and completing repairs, and when the rule goes into effect.
In this episode, you will learn what defines a leak, how EPA regulations will fit in with the PHMSA rule, as well as the numerous pros and cons of developing a new rule.
Leak Detection and Repair Rule Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms
- Keith Coyle is a shareholder and attorney with the law firm of Babst Calland. Mr. Coyle is a member of the firm’s Washington, D.C. office and a Shareholder in the Pipeline and HazMat Safety practice. Connect with Keith Coyle on LinkedIn.
- Gary Steinbaurer is a shareholder in the Environmental Group of Babst Calland. Mr. Steinbauer advises clients on a wide variety of matters arising under major federal and state environmental regulatory programs. Connect with Gary on LinkedIn.
- Babst Calland’s Energy and Natural Resources attorneys work collaboratively across legal disciplines to serve the needs of energy companies across the United States. Based in Washington, D.C., the Firm’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety practice represents clients on all types of pipeline safety and hazardous materials transportation matters.
- PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) is responsible for providing pipeline safety oversight through regulatory rule-making, NTSB recommendations, and other important functions to protect people and the environment through the safe transportation of energy and other hazardous materials.
- Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety (PIPES) Act of 2020 addresses pipeline safety and infrastructure with respect to natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines. It authorizes appropriations through FY2023 for specified pipeline safety programs under the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 and related enactments.
- Section 113 of the bipartisan PIPES Act of 2020 mandated the issuance of a rulemaking requiring the development of advanced leak detection programs capable of identifying, locating, and categorizing natural gas leaks from pipeline infrastructure for timely repair.
- API (American Petroleum Institute): Since its formation in 1919 as a standards-setting organization, API has developed more than 700 standards to enhance industry operations. Today, it is the global leader in convening subject matter experts to establish, maintain, and distribute consensus standards for the oil and natural gas industry.
- Leak Detection is the process of monitoring, diagnosing, and addressing a leak in a pipeline to mitigate risks.
- Gas Hazardous Leak according to PHMSA is any release of gas from a pipeline that is uncontrolled, that could be an existing probable or future hazard to a person’s property or the environment, or that is or can be discovered using equipment sites, sound, smell, or touch.
- MRR means Mandatory Reporting Regulation; the Regulation for the Mandatory Reporting of Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
- EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is an independent organization within the federal U.S. government designed to take measures to protect people and the environment.
- LDAR (Leak Detection and Repair) regulations require operators to craft a program that specifies the regulatory requirements and facility-specific procedures for recordkeeping certifications, monitoring, and repairs to prevent damage to people and the environment.
- The Clean Air Act (CAA) is a comprehensive Federal law that regulates all sources of air emissions.
- FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) refers to the technology used to create an infrared image of a scene without having to “scan” the scene with a moving sensor, which is what was previously required. FLIR cameras use long waves to capture images.
- Right-of-Way is a strip of land encompassing buried pipelines and other natural gas equipment allowing them to be permanently located on public and/or private land to provide natural gas service.
- Sniffer A sniffer is a gas leak detection device that typically includes visual and audible alerts to identify the presence of gas.
- Gas venting, more specifically known as natural-gas venting or methane venting, is the intentional and controlled release of gases containing alkane hydrocarbons – predominately methane – into earth’s atmosphere.
- Blowdown is the purposeful venting of natural gas to the atmosphere during well operations and/or during pipeline operations or maintenance to relieve pressure in the pipe.
- Gathering Lines are pipelines that transport natural gas from production facilities to a transmission line or distribution main lines.
- Type A: Pipelines that operate at relatively higher stress levels and are located in locations that have more than 10 buildings intended for human occupancy or locations where buildings with four or more stories above ground are prevalent.
- Type B: lines operating at lower pressures/stress levels than Type A lines in class 2, 3, or 4 areas.
- Type C: gas gathering lines in Class 1 locations that have an outer diameter of 8.625 inches or greater and operate at an MAOP producing a hoop stress of 20% or more of SMYS, or if the pipeline is non-metallic or the stress level is unknown, operates above 125 pounds per square inch gauge.
Leak Detection and Repair Rule Full Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to the “Pipeliners Podcast”, Episode 289 sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute, driving safety, environmental protection, and sustainability across the natural gas and oil industry through world class standards and safety programs.
Since its formation as a standard setting organization in 1919, API has developed more than 800 standards to enhance industry operations worldwide. Find out more at API.org.
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. To show that appreciation, we give away a customized YETI Tumbler to one listener every episode. This week, our winner is Warren Harden from Sitco. Congratulations Warren. Your YETI is on its way. To learn how you can win this signature prize, stick around till the end of the episode.
This week we spoke to Keith Coyle and Gary Steinbaurer with Babst Calland about PHMSA’s notice of proposed rulemaking on gas pipeline leak detection and repair. Keith and Gary, welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast.
Keith Coyle: Thanks for having me on again, Russell.
Gary Steinbaurer: Happy to be here, Russell. Thank you.
Russel: I’m going to do introductions like I normally do, and Keith you’re an old hand at all this, I’ll ask you to go first and you can be an example for Gary.
Keith: Hey, good afternoon everybody. This is Keith Coyle. I’m a shareholder with Babst Calland. Last time I was on, I told Russell pretty soon we’d be back to our regularly scheduled programming with rulemaking and we are back. That’s why I’m here again today to talk about a new PHMSA rule.
Russel: Gary, can you give us a little bit about your background and what you do at Babst Calland?
Gary: Happy to do Russell. Thanks. My name’s Gary Steinbaurer. I am a shareholder and environmental regulatory attorney at Babst Calland. My practice focuses primarily on Clean Air Act regulatory programs, including programs involving leak detection and repair.
Russel: Great tee up because that’s what we asked you guys to come on and talk about. We’ve got a new rule making that’s in process. I think PHMSA is calling this the Gas Pipeline Leak Detection and Repair Rule. Maybe you guys could tell us a little bit about what this rule is and what’s driving it.
Keith: Sure. On May 18th of 2023, PHMSA published a proposed rule on the federal register dealing with gas pipeline leak detection and repair. PHMSA proposed the rule in response to a congressional mandate that was included in section 113 of the 2020 Pipes Act.
Section 113 directed PHMSA to issue regulations by December 27th of 2021, that would require operators of gas transmission lines, distribution lines, and certain gathering lines to essentially implement enhanced leak detection programs and repair requirements.
One of the things that’s really notable about this proposed role from the outset is that it extends beyond the section 113 congressional mandate. It includes provisions that extend to additional gas gathering lines, underground natural gas storage facilities, and liquefied natural gas facilities.
It also pulls in some references to programs that are administered by the Environmental Protection Agency, which is one of the reasons that we pulled Gary into the fold today. This was a rule that was proposed back in May. The period for submitting comments is due on July 17th of 2023.
Russel: Yeah, that’s coming up fast, particularly by the time this episode is released, we’re going to be right up against that date.
Keith: Yeah, we’re currently about 30 days out from when comments need to be submitted. There have been several requests submitted to the agency asking for an extension of the comment period. PHMSA has not yet acted on those requests.
We’re hoping that PHMSA gives a little bit of additional time for people to review the rule and submit comments. The proposed rule only included a 60 day comment period. This is a pretty comprehensive rule. People have asked, I think, for an additional 60 days.
Not sure that we’ll get an additional 60 days. Maybe we’ll get 30 days, but until PHMSA acts on that request, I think we all have to operate under the assumption that the comments are going to be due on July 17th.
Russel: I want to ask a few questions. I’m fairly familiar with leak detection from a liquids pipelining perspective. In the PHMSA rules API 1130, which is computerized pipeline modeling for leak detection, is incorporated by reference. It really focuses on finding what I’m going to categorize as larger leaks. Where my understanding – and to frame this as a question – of the gas rule is, is it more about all leaks?
Also addresses things that would be historically thought of as normal operations, like venting and blowdown of meter tubes for inspection and maintenance repair activities. What’s actually in the rule? How are they defining a leak?
Keith: That’s a really good place to start conceptually. One of the most significant things they’re changing, at least proposing to change in this role is the definition of what qualifies as a leak or hazardous leak.
Your experience with the liquid side is probably pretty similar to the experience on the gas side, at least under the original rules that the agency promulgated in the 1970s, and this pattern has held through. There was a general recognition that not all leaks were necessarily treated as hazardous leaks.
What PHMSA has proposed in this rule is a very significant change to the definition of what qualifies as a leak or hazardous leak. What they’re saying in essence as a shorthand is, any release of gas from a pipeline that is uncontrolled, that could be an existing probable or future hazard to person’s property or the environment, or that is or can be discovered using equipment sites, sound, smell, or touch.
That’s a very expansive definition of what a leak or hazardous leak is. My reading of it is it’s essentially almost every detectable release of gas from a pipeline uncontrollably qualifies a leak.
Russel: I want to come back and focus on what you said upfront. Uncontrolled. Is that what you said?
Keith: That is what is proposed in the proposed definition, uncontrolled release of gas.
Russel: Yeah. That begs definition as well. What does it mean for a release of gas to be uncontrolled?
Keith: True. That’s one of the things I think that’ll be fleshed out in the comment period. We’ve gotten some questions, “OK, what does that mean for an intentional release of gas?” Those are one of the things that I think we’re going to have to iron out as we go through the comment period.
Russel: There are a number of companies out there, and we’ve had one of them on the podcast in the past talking about mechanisms that they have for capturing gas that would historically be vented for normal MRR. Venting and blowdown, I wouldn’t consider that uncontrolled, but without a definition of uncontrolled, that’s hard to say.
Keith: There are some specific proposals in this rule to deal with methane emissions, venting, mitigation of emissions from blowdowns. That’s one of the things that PHMSA has proposed in the rule.
To capture the rule, what’s changing at a high level. First thing, more frequent leak surveys and right of way patrolling. There are significant changes in the frequency of both of those requirements. We have this proposal for operators to develop an advanced leak detection program that relies on technology and some pretty stringent requirements.
New leak grading and repair criteria. Basically every leak now is going to be graded as a grade one, two, or three. Then there are deadlines, pretty stringent deadlines put in there for when you need to repair those leaks. I talked a little bit about reduction of emissions, methane emissions when we’re dealing with venting.
There’s some provisions dealing with developing procedures for pressure relief and pressure limiting devices. Then the last thing is going to be some significant changes to the reporting requirements, dealing with new reporting requirements for large volume releases, as well as an expansion of the national pipeline mapping system requirement to regulated gathering lines.
Russel: I view this as a big deal. I view it as materially different from what is standard practice in liquids. Standard practice in liquids would be, I have some kind of SCADA based leak detection system that’s taking the real time pressures and flows and using that to locate and indicate leaks.
Where with the gas rule, there’s some of that, but there’s a whole lot of other intentionality around reporting of all leaks and methane emissions related to things that would historically be considered normal operations, like gas operated valves and that type of thing.
To my mind, it’s quite different from what we’ve historically done in liquids. I’m curious, do you guys agree with that perspective?
Keith: I’ll speak for myself and I will say yes. I think this is a significant and very impactful change to the way that most operators handle leak detection and repair. I think the definition of leak itself is going to capture things that traditionally weren’t necessarily considered as actionable leaks.
Then I think the obligation to grade everything with a pretty stringent schedule for going out and doing repairs, that’s a very significant change as well. It’s more obligations to detect leaks with more advanced technology, with more requirements for doing repairs under more stringent timelines.
Gary: I would say to that, it’s interesting to hear you Russell and Keith talk about how this is a material change from what you’re used to whether it be on the liquids or the gas pipeline side. I’m coming at this from my own perspective, having dealt with EPA LDAR regulatory programs and the way in which EPA approaches these issues.
LDAR and EPA regulations have been in place for decades and have been applied to places like petroleum refineries and chemical manufacturing facilities. More recently, oil and gas facilities, including compressor stations.
I look at the way PHMSA is proposing to regulate leaks, and it’s very different from how EPA approaches it. In what Keith mentioned, leak is defined very broadly in this proposal. EPA typically defines a leak as a certain concentration that is measured by a detection instrument, 500 parts per million as an example.
Anything below that is not a leak and therefore is not an actionable item. PHMSA here is defining leak very broadly and capturing and sweeping in what EPA may not consider to be a leak under its LDAR programs.
Russel: That’s very interesting. Here I am babbling because my mind is spinning a little bit. I’m curious what you guys’ opinion is on the difference between what the EPA is doing in facilities and around oil gas production, versus what PHMSA is doing in pipelines, and are those differences reasonable?
Keith: I’ll let Gary take the first crack at that because he knows a whole lot more about the EPA regulations. I tend to stay away from programs that have subparts with four letters in front of them. You’re probably regulating too much if you’re at a subpart cuatro. I’ll let Gary take that.
Gary: One of the key differences, Russell, without getting too far into the weeds, EPAs, oil and gas, Clean Air Act requirements apply only to specific facilities within the oil and gas industry. As relevant to today’s discussion, those only apply at the compressor stations themselves.
They don’t apply at the miles of pipeline running between the compressor stations or from the well head to the processing plant. They apply at the processing plant, at the compressor station, or at the wellhead.
What PHMSA is doing here or proposing to do, it’s different in that sense from a locational perspective as to what and how EPA regulates leaks at specific facilities.
Russel: Yeah, I guess that’s true with regards to the pipelines themselves, but for anything that’s coming up above ground, I would think it’d be a similar type thing. Any above ground valve station, any meter station, any utilities city gates.
All those kinds of things are above ground assets that would lend themselves more to the EPA style approach versus the buried assets. Let me tell you a little bit about why my head is spinning here.
I’m fairly familiar with the state of the art of leak detection technology. There were a number of reports that were done, I believe PHMSA commissioned one about 10 years ago, maybe a tad longer, where they looked at leak detection for natural gas from a computerized pipeline modeling standpoint.
At that time, the analysis was there wasn’t a viable technology out there. The technologies that people are investing in tend to be more FLIR cameras or other kinds of image processing. Which doesn’t really do you a lot of good beyond vegetation analysis for stuff that’s buried.
Keith: One of the things that’s in this rule, and I’ll admit I’m not as familiar with the technological capacity as maybe you are or Gary, is this metric that they’re using to establish sensitivity for leak detection equipment?
Gary, tell me if I’m wrong, it’s five parts per million within five feet is the sensitivity that they’re looking for on the leak detection equipment. At least some of the feedback we’ve gotten from some of our clients is even that metric that’s being used is not necessarily appropriate for other kinds of leak detection technology that you might want to use to meet this requirement in the proposed rule.
Gary, please feel free to correct me 90 ways from Sunday if I got all that wrong.
Russel: No, I think you’re right, Keith, because I think the only two kinds of technologies that could meet that are either some kind of camera or image processing, or some kind of sniffing you’re not going to get detection like that for underground.
There’s always a lot going on in technology, but it seems a little problematic to me.
Keith: One of the other concerns that we’ve gotten from some of our clients is what we’re calling background methane emissions. Things that you might just pick up as you’re walking along the right-of-way, or even after you’re doing a repair that may not necessarily be attributable to your pipeline.
They may be attributable to other background environmental conditions where you’re picking up some methane, detecting it, but it’s not necessarily attributable to your pipeline or your facility. That might even be the case after you do a repair. One of the proposals in here as I read it, my understanding is there’s this zero percent detection, zero percent detectability of gas requirement for after you do a repair.
Some of the feedback we’ve gotten back on that is that can be concerning as well because, again, you may do a perfectly fine repair and still detect some small percentage of methane. It might not be attributable to your facility. It might be attributable to something else.
Russel: Yeah, something as simple as plant matter decay, it could generate some methane. Zero is a tough number, man.
Keith: Zero is a tough number to me.
Russel: Gary, what’s your take on all of this? You may not have heard pipeliners talking about this before, but curious what your take is on the conversation that Keith and I are having.
Gary: I think from my perspective, Russel, for EPA LDAR programs, particularly the New Orleans gas industry, right now, as it stands from a regulatory standpoint, operators are really limited to one of two technologies – a sniffer as you mentioned, a photon ionization, detection instrument, or a flame ionization detection instrument, or using optical gas imaging and a FLIR camera.
More recently, EPA’s attempted and proposed to be a little bit more flexible on the types of technologies that can be used. Operators are really limited right now in the technologies they can use in order to monitor for leaks.
When you apply that to pipeline assets, right, which are just from a scope and locational perspective, you’re dealing with assets that some of which are buried for miles, it’s a really different conversation, and one I’m not really accustomed to based on the above ground piping assets that are monitored under EPA’s programs.
Russel: There’s handheld and truck mounted sniffing devices that you can run down a pipeline right away, either by foot or by driving a truck down a right of way. That will give you some indication.
One of the other challenges with all of this – and this is always true about very small leaks – is where the leak is occurring and where the leak is emitting the atmosphere for a buried asset could be very different geography.
Keith: That’s true. I mean, just tracking the gas pathway when you have a varied piece of infrastructure that’s leaking, it’s not necessarily true that you’re going to detect a leak at the point where the leak is originating.
The leak may migrate to different places underground before coming above ground. When you go to do the excavation to repair that leak, it may be a lot more complicated than you thought when you first came to it, also particularly if you have multiple common pipelines within a right-of-way, some of which you may not operate.
I think there’s definitely additional challenges there in terms of once you detect something, getting in to do the repair, I think that’s not going to necessarily be as easy as maybe the proposal suggests.
Russel: That’s right, particularly when you have multiple pipelines in a right-of-way with multiple different owners of those pipelines. In fact, that starts getting really complex.
Keith: Some of the other things that we’ve heard concerns about on the client side are going beyond the section 113 mandate, particularly for gathering lines. The mandate in section 113 for these advanced late detection and repair programs was limited to what I’ll say the historically regulated type A and type B gathering lines. These are going to be your gathering lines in class two locations, class three locations, or class four locations.
In the proposed rule, PHMSA’s proposing to extend the same advanced leak detection technology requirements to the newly regulated type C lines in class one locations. These lines just became regulated under a rule that was issued back in November of 2021. The original compliance date for the rule I think just ran last month.
PHMSA’s done a stay of enforcement on some of the smaller diameter lines where they’re not expected to be in compliance with that requirement until May of 2024.
A lot of the folks who we’ve heard from in that sector of the industry are saying, “Look, we don’t even have the basic leak detection program up and running just yet. You just issued a rule that imposed some of these new requirements on us. Then we’re getting this other proposed rule that’s going to go from basic to advanced right on top of each other.”
I think that’s raising a lot of concerns with some of our gas gathering clients. This is pretty aggressive on top of all the other things that we’re trying to get our arms around with the recent rule that was just issued.
Russel: This is going to be a big challenge for the gathering companies, particularly the ones that are doing gathering and don’t have any compression. Those gathering companies that have compression are going to have programs around their compression facilities because of the EPA requirements. At least I think that would be true.
But when you start talking about all the other pipes and all the other facilities, like foul stations and other things, pump stations or whatever, I just don’t know.
Keith: There is a proposed six month compliance deadline for this rule. So the agency’s being pretty aggressive in terms of when they want to get this finalized. I think they’re looking at issuing the final rule sometime next year if all holds true. Then, a six month compliance deadline, that’s not going to give folks a lot of time to get their house in order.
I know one of the things that’s suggested in the rule is you have the proposed rule so that working off the proposed rule should give operators additional time to comply. But one of the points of the rulemaking process is for the agency to receive comments that can make significant and impactful changes to the proposed rule. So it’s sort of a moving target at this point.
It’s a little hard for operators to invest significant resources in coming into compliance with a proposed rule that may change significantly when you get to the final rule stage. That’s a challenge. I think that’s legitimate.
It’s just difficult. It’s a difficult ask for some of these companies to start complying today when you don’t really know what the rule’s going to look like at the end of the rulemaking process.
Russel: I think that’s absolutely right. We’ve talked a lot about the nature of the rule, the definition of the league, the need to grade those leagues and to establish repair criteria, repair timeframes.
What about things that would be normal operations? We’ve talked a little bit about it. But I want to talk specifically about what’s in there related to venting and blowdown.
Keith: There is this new proposed requirement for certain types of pipelines to have methane emission reduction methodologies in place, basically to have plans and procedures that meet certain criteria to make sure that you are minimizing the amount of methane that is released when you need to do a blowdown for a repair.
I understand the desire to reduce methane emissions as much as possible, particularly when we’re doing a repair. We don’t want to do unnecessary blowdowns. We don’t want to have unnecessary releases of methane into the environment. I think people understand the concern around that.
We’ve seen similar proposals that PHMSA has put forward to include special permits. Some of the special permits have been issued lately, like waivers of the class location requirements and things like that. I think that’s something that the agency has been focused on or has been talking about for a while.
The flip side of the coin there too is one of the things that you have to counter into the equation is if we’re doing more leak detection, excavation, and repair, the more excavations that you have to do, the more repairs you have to do. That may increase the amount of blowdowns that you need to do to make those repairs. So it’s sort of a double edged sword there.
Russel: I hadn’t even thought about that.
Keith: I’m no expert in the blowdown world. But I have heard from some of our clients over time that one of the concerns they have is the more repairs we have to do, the more times we need to go out and excavate and fix something.
That’s going to increase the risks associated with excavation activities. There’s going to be a significant cost attributable to that. There might be additional blowdowns that need to happen in order for you to perform the repairs that you need to perform to fix the pipeline.
Russel: I’m not an expert in this. But I know enough to be dangerous. If you think about it, if I’ve got 10 miles of 10 inch pipe that I have to blowdown in order to repair a slow leak, you have to ask yourself the question, “Am I actually reducing overall methane emissions by repairing this small leak if I have to do this big blowdown?”
I ain’t even thought about that. That’s a really interesting question.
Keith: These and other points, I think that’s why we have proposed rules. The agency’s going to put the proposal out there. They’ve provided a rationale. They have a cost benefit analysis. They’ve provided explanations.
One of the things that’s incumbent on stakeholders who are involved in the rulemaking process is to provide comments back to the agency so that everybody fully understands the implications of what’s going on with the rule making.
I know everybody complains about the rulemaking process. It takes too long. There’s a lot of process. But I think the object of the rulemaking process at the end of the day is to make sure that agencies make good decisions.
One of the things that we need to do as an industry to make sure the agency’s making good decisions is to point out concerns that we have. That’s why we have comment periods.
Gary: I’ll add I think you all are really discussing an important topic. Something that’s noticeably absent from PHMSA’s proposal as when you compare to EPA regulations imposing LDAR requirements at compressor stations, for example.
Russel, there are instances where an owner of a compressor station who may detect a leak may be able to delay repairing that leak until there’s a scheduled shutdown, until it’s safe. The leak can be repaired in an environmentally responsible manner. Those are spelled out in EPA’s regulations.
I didn’t see those in the PHMSA proposal. You don’t want to create more emissions from attempting to repair a leak than the leak is otherwise creating. I think that’s likely something that will be fleshed out more in the public comments on this proposal.
Russel: That’s really interesting.
I think the other thing that’s also true is when you think about compressor stations, compressor stations and compressors are taken offline from time to time to do just routine maintenance. It wouldn’t be uncommon for that to be at least once a year or more frequently.
But when you start talking about a pipeline that’s under pressure, taking all the gas out of that pipeline in order to be able to work on it, that very rarely, if ever, happens. It raises some really interesting considerations. Certainly, the agency ought to hear those comments.
Keith: On all of this stuff, when we’re talking about defining what qualifies as a hazardous leak, what kinds of leaks do we need to repair, I think one of things that we need to remember is there’s a reason that the rules have developed in the way that they have over time.
It’s not that everybody in the industry didn’t want to fix leaks or that everybody wanted to leave things that were hazardous just venting into the environment. There were a lot of smart people that came before you and I that spent a lot of time thinking about what is the right way to invest resources to ensure public safety, what is the best way to address leaks in terms of rating and repairing the leaks.
I know we have this new mandate in section 113 where Congress has asked the agency to take a step forward. We all understand that. I just think we also need to be a little bit cautious in just assuming that everything about the way operators were doing things for all these years was fundamentally wrong and misplaced. I don’t think that’s accurate. I think there were reasons why people were doing things the way that they’re doing them.
Everybody understands that change is coming. I just think we also need to be mindful of why the rules developed in the way they did as we’re making changes to improve public safety and the environment in the future.
Russel: That’s a good tee up, Keith, for my last question here. What should the pipeline operators be doing right now?
Keith: Make comments.
I guess, to start, if you haven’t done so already, I would highly encourage anybody in the community to take a look at the rule. It’s a long rule. Some of these aren’t the easiest to get through. In fact, I haven’t found one yet that’s easy to get through. I’ve been doing this for a while.
When I go through a proposed rule, I tend to read the rule text first. Then I’ll go back and read all the preamble material. But read the rule the way you want to read the rule. Start from the beginning. Start from the end. Think about how the rule’s provisions are going to impact your company.
Then the best thing you can do at this point if you have concerns is develop comments, either develop comments for your company to submit on its own or work with your trade organization to make sure that your comments are reflected.
There are no bad comments. I think it’s better to say something to the agency than to not say something because this is the opportunity that you have to influence the rule making process. Don’t assume that somebody else is going to make a comment for you. If you have something to say, the best thing that you can do is say it.
Russel: Gary, anything to add to that?
Gary: I think Keith hit the nail on the head there.
One aspect of this proposal that I would encourage pipeline operators to strongly consider and focus on is something Keith touched on early on. It’s what I’ll call, Russel, an anti-overlap narrow exception that PHMSA’s included. It essentially provides that you don’t need to comply with certain aspects of the PHMSA proposal if you’re already subject to and complying with certain aspects of EPA’s oil and gas LDAR programs.
I would say when I look at it, it all sounds well and good. I applaud PHMSA for trying to limit the resource outlay for folks that are already subject to and complying with EPA requirements.
But I think it’s fair to say that there will be a number of pipeline facilities, including compressor stations, that aren’t subject to the EPA LDAR requirement. They’re going to really have to look hard at this provision and narrow exception and decide what path they want to take here and also whether PHMSA’s treating them fairly and giving them a practical exit ramp through this narrow exception.
Russel: This brings up another interesting question for me. That is, if I have a compressor station that’s currently regulated by EPA and that compressor station is part of a regulated pipeline, which rule governs?
Keith: The way that I’ve read the rule was PHMSA was willing to defer enforcement of its regulations if there was an EPA program that was in place. I’m not sure that rule operators wouldn’t have to comply with both. I think, Gary, that’s what you’re describing about this anti-overlap. Is that right?
Gary: That’s correct. EPA’s rules are only going to apply at the compressor station. Pipeliners operators that have compression are likely going to be in a position of having to implement the PHMSA requirements for the pipe runs. Then if they’re subject to the EPA LDAR requirements of the compressor station, they would be implementing the EPA requirements at the compressor station.
Russel: Oh, my goodness. That doesn’t sound like fun.
Gary: No. There’s another timing aspect of this, too. Keith touched upon the fact that PHMSA’s proposal would take, in fact, six months after the final rule was promulgated. This entire overlap provision references a set of EPA proposals that are not yet final, including a set of regulations that may not become effective until 2025 or later.
There’s a real question, I think, Russel, as to whether this provision does satisfy PHMSA’s intent in terms of limiting the resource outlay because there could be a period of time for which the referenced EPA’s standards are in effect, and yet this PHMSA rule becomes effective.
Operators are going to have to make a choice and likely need to start complying with the PHMSA requirements if they become applicable prior to the cross referenced EPA regulations.
Russel: This is the thing that makes a regulatory program manager go a little crazy. It’s complex. It’s got a lot of implications. Figuring out what I’ve got to do with my program, and, Keith, I think, to your point that trying to put a program together before the rule is final, there’s only so much you can do. It’s challenging for sure. I guess my takeaway from this is to read the rule and submit your comments. Do so quickly.
Keith: Yeah. Even if you can’t get your comments in before the deadline, whether it’s July 17th or whether it’s extended, there’ll be other opportunities to participate in the rulemaking process too. My understanding is the agency wants to do an advisory committee on this proposal maybe in November of this year.
They do invite public comment as part of the advisory committee process. It’s a shorter comment period. It’s a little more controlled. But that’s another really important opportunity for people who want to have a voice of how the rulemaking process is going. You can weigh in there.
The agency will often invite written comments, both before the advisory committee process and then again after the advisory committee process, will give folks a time period to submit their comments. Again, there’s no such thing as a bad comment. For now, there’s no such thing as a late comment. Whatever you have to say, write it down and get it in.
Russel: The only bad comment is the one you didn’t make.
Russel: Gentlemen, thank you so much for your time. This has been really informative for me. I will tell you, Keith, that, in the past, I’ve generally read the rule before you and I had the conversation. In this case, I haven’t had the opportunity to read it yet. So this has been very, very instructive to me. This goes in my list of things to do, I’ve got to sit down and read this rule.
Keith: I’ve read it a few times. I’m still digesting it, Russel. I’m not sure I’ll get it by the end, either.
Russel: Fair enough. Gary, thank you so much for bringing your perspective.
Gary: Thank you very much for having me.
Keith: Thanks, Russel.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Keith and Gary. Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast Yeti tumbler. Simply visit PipelinePodcastNetwork.com/Win and enter yourself in the drawing.
Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.
Transcription by CastingWords