This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features Tristan Brown discussing environmental protection, ways that the industry can stay nimble, and how PHMSA interacts with Congress and the government while maintaining a nonpartisan stance.
In this episode, you will learn about advancements in technology aimed at ensuring proper environmental protection. Additionally, you will gain insights into the challenges associated with crafting regulations applicable to all industry operators and the growing significance of proactively establishing rules prior to incidents.
Strong Independent Regulator Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms
- Tristan Brown is the Deputy Administrator at Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
- Follow Tristan Brown on LinkedIn.
- 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.
- Environmental protection is the practice of protecting the natural environment by individuals, groups and governments. Its objectives are to conserve natural resources and the existing natural environment and, where possible, to repair damage and reverse trends.
- The Clean Water Act (CWA) is the principle law governing pollution control and water quality of the Nation’s waterways. The object of the CWA is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.
- Midstream is the processing, storing, transporting and marketing of oil, natural gas, and natural gas liquids.
- Downstream is the process involved in converting oil and gas into the finished product, including refining crude oil into gasoline, natural gas liquids, diesel, and a variety of other energy sources. The closer an oil and gas company is to the process of providing consumers with petroleum products, the further downstream the company is said to be.
- The United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada, commonly known as the United Association (UA), is a labor union which represents workers in the plumbing and pipefitting industries in the United States and Canada.
- The Administrative Procedure Act (APA) governs the process by which federal agencies develop and issue regulations. It includes requirements for publishing notices of proposed and final rulemaking in the Federal Register, and provides opportunities for the public to comment on notices of proposed rulemaking.
- LPAC (Liquid Pipeline Advisory Committee) and GPAC (Gas Pipeline Advisory Committee) are statutorily mandated advisory committees that advise PHMSA on proposed gas pipeline and hazardous liquid pipeline safety standards, respectively, and their associated risk assessments. The committees consist of 15 members with membership evenly divided among Federal and State governments, the regulated industry, and the general public. The committees advise PHMSA on the technical feasibility, reasonableness, cost-effectiveness, and practicability of each proposed pipeline safety standard.
- Energy Bar Association (EBA) is an international, non-profit association of attorneys, energy professionals, and students active in all areas of energy law
- Deepwater Horizon incident occurred on April 20, 2010, when the oil drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, operating in the Macondo Prospect in the Gulf of Mexico, exploded and sank resulting in the death of 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon and the largest spill of oil in the history of marine oil drilling operations. 4 million barrels of oil flowed from the damaged Macondo well over an 87-day period, before it was finally capped on July 15, 2010.
- The Boeing 737 MAX passenger airliner was grounded worldwide between March 2019 and December 2020 – longer in many jurisdictions – after 346 people died in two crashes: Lion Air Flight 610 on October 29, 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on March 10, 2019. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) resisted grounding the aircraft until March 13, 2019, when it received evidence of accident similarities. By then, 51 other regulators had already grounded the plane, and by March 18, 2019, all 387 aircraft in service were grounded.
- API (American Petroleum Institute) represents all segments of America’s natural gas and oil industry. API has developed more than 700 standards to enhance operational and environmental safety, efficiency, and sustainability.
- 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.
Strong Independent Regulator Full Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to the “Pipeliners Podcast,” episode 286, 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 about API 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 Timothy Woods. Congratulations, Timothy, your YETI is on its way. To learn how you can win this signature prize, stick around until the end of the episode.
This week, Tristan Brown from PHMSA is joining us to talk about “Common Goals, Roles, and Relevance of a Strong, Independent Regulator.” Tristan, welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast.
Tristan Brown: Hey. Thank you so much, Russel. I’m so glad and excited to be here with you.
Russel: I’m very glad and excited to have you on as a guest. I have to tell the listeners that Tristan embarrassed me. When we were having our tee-up call, he was telling me that he listens to the podcast regularly. I found that quite humbling. Thanks for being a fan.
Tristan: I’ve got the receipts, Russel.
I’ve mentioned you in a speech before as my favorite podcast. I truly do mean it. I know this is an effort, although you make it seem effortless and fun. The work you do is so important to the sector.
It’s important to me as a regulator to hear. You get diverse viewpoints on the most diverse subject matter related to the pipeline sector. Those diverse voices make us all better, more informed members of the safety professional class of the pipeline community. Hats off to you. Excited to dive in with you today.
Russel: Ditto. Thank you so much for those kind words. Let’s start here. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background? Maybe how you got into pipeline and ended up where you are.
Tristan: I’m an attorney in the energy space and in the transportation space, and was called up to the big leagues to focus on energy and transportation and safety oversight thereof. I studied science in college and got a master’s degree focused on economics and answering the question of, for someone who believes in economics and markets, how do you reconcile that with the notion that there’s no market price for clean air or clean water? That’s just something that’s a given. We can’t indefinitely put things in the atmosphere that contribute to lessening that invaluable commodity of clean air.
Focused a little bit on the economics questions like that and then went to law school. Practiced law, served in government, worked for a couple different senators doing energy policy and economics and transportation policy.
This is the nexus of all those things of setting standards to mitigate safety and environmental risk. A big part of that is justifying economic cost and benefits and making sure we do it all within the legal confines of the laws that Congress has established along with the president and the executive branch.
I’ve never actually sought out a job. They’ve sort of come to me, starting with my first job at age nine as a stable boy. Longest job I ever had and one I’m most proud of just because of the hard work involved. Shoveling manure and tending to horses for nine years…
Russel: I can’t help it, Tristan. I have to say this, and this is totally off color and I apologize in advance, but shoveling horse poo is a great prerequisite for working in the career path you’re in.
Tristan: We definitely have our fair share of manure coming our way at times. It’s incumbent on all of us to try to wade through it together.
Russel: There you go. Thanks for letting me say that.
That’s awesome. I think that’s awesome. I find it interesting too that your career path is education, advanced education, law school, and then working as a staffer. I would assume you have a very detailed understanding of how the rules get made, if you will.
Tristan: What it really is, especially when you look at Congress, a lot of people have the sense that nothing gets done anymore. Nothing gets done in the big spotlight on the national news, but things that happen, like our pipeline reauthorization bill…I was just in Nebraska where a former chair of our sub-committee, Senator Fischer, who helped get two bipartisan authorization bills that authorized the work of PHMSA together.
I had to thank her publicly because that’s the quiet work that most people don’t hear about, except certainly you and your listeners hear about it because you cover it so well. The average American doesn’t necessarily focus on that quiet, unsung bipartisan work.
The way it happens is finding common interest and building consensus. I work for two senators that really focused on that in their whole careers. It’s certainly how it’s necessary that we approach a lot of the challenges…Sometimes it’s tough to build a consensus, but you’ve got to keep trying. We got to wade through that together too.
Russel: That’s a great tee up. I asked you to come on and talk about common goals and the roles and relevance of a strong independent regulator. That’s a great tee up for that. I agree with you. One of the things that’s awesome about what PHMSA does and the process that it follows is it doesn’t exist outside of politics, but it’s not political, if that makes sense.
It’s very deliberative. It follows the rigor and the rules that abound, which our institutions are built on, but it’s very collaborative. A lot of diverse opinions working together to come to a solution.
Tristan: I didn’t know what to expect from the inside of that very question of whether the agency was political or not.
I see it now from the inside that you have 600 dedicated professionals and a couple hundred very dedicated contractors. There’s not a lot of politics or political viewpoints. There is a focus on safety. There is a focus on navigating technical questions and legal questions, those sorts of things.
There’s not a lot of politics that goes into this work. It’s just focused on a common goal — safety, environmental protection. I know most of your listeners, a vast majority I’m sure, share those goals as well. Then it’s what’s the best path forward there. That’s what we’re focused on.
Russel: Absolutely. You’ve already answered one of my questions, which is what are the common goals? You’ve already answered it — safety. I want to ask you to elaborate a little bit, if you would, about environmental protection. I’m going to spend a little time, if you don’t mind, just teeing this question up a little bit.
I remember very well in the ’70s when I was in high school, there was a big push for clean water. It was about the time that the Clean Water Act got put into law. There were a lot of places that I went as a young kid to go swim and fish and all that that you couldn’t go anymore because they were just awful.
You just don’t find that very much in the US anymore. The water generally is clean, and all kinds of examples. I’d like to say, in Galveston Bay, I see dolphins. You never saw dolphins when I was younger in Galveston Bay.
We’ve come a long way, but I do think that some of what’s going on about air quality, like we don’t…How do I tee this up? What I’m trying to ask is, when we talk about environmental protection and the diversity of viewpoints that exist, about what is reasonable environmental protection and what’s unreasonable environmental protection? How do you navigate through that contentious question?
Tristan: I try to find common ground. For example, in recent times, methane was something you could emit into the atmosphere. It went up. We controlled a large part of its safety risk in fencing and blowdowns and maybe small leaks.
Our technology has allowed us to get to a place where we can capture that, keep the product in the pipe proverbially, but also specifically, using new technologies. Those are rapidly being developed and refined and deployed in a way that saves a valuable product that also happens to have 80 times the global warming potential as carbon dioxide.
We’re developing, in America, those technologies. We’re deploying them at a rapid rate, and we’re becoming even more efficient than we were before. That’s win, win, win, win, win.
I talked to a CEO on the downstream side of things. We used to not necessarily want to know about every leak because we might have felt like we had to fix some of these smaller leaks that weren’t as high of a priority from an economic standpoint. They’ve got their public utilities commissions saying, “No, you can get a rate of return for doing some of that fixing and capturing those repairs that are needed.”
Then you have some companies that do work more on the midstream side of getting products globally around the world. They’re saying, “Well, actually, because we’re more efficient and environmentally responsible, we actually get a little premium for our product versus some of the overseas competitors.” This is not an either-or. This is a value add to be at the forefront of environmental protection as a country, as a company.
Then, just somebody as a worker doing this work, I take pride in the work that people do to keep the product in the pipe. They’re prideful about that work. I was out with the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters. They are proud of the work they do repairing pipelines and the impact it has in mitigating global climate change.
They’re mitigating global climate change, and they’re part of a country that is a leader in doing that but still has some opportunity to advance that even further. When people start pointing fingers, it gets a little bit harder to have a constructive conversation. I like to point fingers at, “All right. Where are the solutions, and who’s being part of the solution?”
Point it in a good way, and then create the right incentives for people. America, when you have the rules of the road, and most companies will tell you this, “We just want rules of the road. We want a level playing field, and then we want to be able to compete.”
In the past, when it’s been heads butting and either we have environmental protection or we have a strong economy we know that’s not true. We know that you can have an extremely strong economy that keeps products in the pipe that is efficient. That’s a little bit of how we avoid some of that more contentious discussion around environmental issues.
Russel: I have said many times on the podcast that I’m active in the Boy Scouts. I was an Eagle Scout. I love the outdoors. A lot of people in our business are in our business because they love the outdoors because we spend a lot of time there in our careers.
My thing is we should leave it as we found it. That’s a key credo in the Boy Scout ethos is leave no trace. You go under the woods. You camp, you have a good time, you come out of the woods, there should be no trace left in the woods that you were ever there.
Russel: As operators, we have a similar ethos. I’ll just tell you, personally, when people say “global warming,” that’s a little bit of a trigger word for me, but when you say, “Leave no trace. Be environmentally responsible.” That doesn’t trigger me at all.
Sometimes just how you frame the conversation is super important in these things too, because you have to avoid those things that are hot potatoes to get to what we’re trying to do. There’s no reason we can’t recapture and put it back in the pipe, so let’s do that.
Tristan: Part of me just says, as an economist approach to things, that it’s just not efficient to leave pollution out there either. If you can capture the product, it may have a use somewhere else. It just makes sense.
Russel: Yeah. I understand that philosophy for sure. The other thing too, is things that are uneconomic when you first try to do them, when you start doing them at scale, they become economic. Then, when you do them long enough and you let competition operate, they become a value. They generate value.
Tristan: Spot on.
Russel: The cost of capturing gas off of an event and reinjecting it into a pipeline probably is going to rapidly drop in the next 5 to 10 years because there are so many people entering that business in so many technologies. That technology’s not that tough.
Tristan: Exactly. We do talk a lot about that, especially when I was down in Mexico with the Mexican regulators. They were interested in this topic and thinking about, “Well, so maybe we could save money doing this.” I said, “Yeah. Well, the world is really focused on this.”
They’re focused on these advancing technologies that are making this business more efficient, keeping the products in the pipe and do we want to be the leaders in this area as well, or do we want to fall behind other countries that are going to be the leaders and we’re going to be buying their technology someday?
The answer is we want to be the leaders. We want to build the technology. We want to sell the technology. We want to deploy the technology, and we want to do it efficiently. That’s what we’re doing.
Russel: Well, I think also that there is a cultural aspect of this too. If you think about where we’ve come in safety since I first entered the workforce, I remember working construction sites and running all around two stories up in the air, and I didn’t have any safety gear on or safety harness.
There weren’t any OSHA out there looking at what we were doing. It’s a different world now, and the whole viewpoint about safety. How people view it as part of a business culture, as part of who we are as people. How they look at it in terms of their financial performance is radically different from where it was when I started 100 years ago.
Tristan: Amen. I think we’re headed in the right direction. We just need to build on that momentum and that cultural shift.
Russel: The other thing I want to talk to you in this vein is the idea of a robust process. I’ve talked about this before on the podcast, but I want to hear your viewpoint. How important is that process to being deliberative and working effectively as we try to collaborate and get to these common goals.
Tristan: Where I sit, we have to be pretty close to perfect because we’ve got a lot of entities that we oversee. We have all of our pipeline operators. By the way, I know folks on your podcast, your listeners think of us as pipeline regulators.
Half of what we regulate is classified as a hazardous material via any mode of transportation. That amounts to about 1 in 10 goods that moves in the United States, which is valued in the trillions of dollars. We regulate all of that with fewer than 600 full-time employees.
That means when you write standards, that have to apply very broadly and try to avoid loopholes generally. We’ve got to get it perfect because if we overly burden one entity, then we can face challenges to undermine the entire standard or rulemaking that we do.
Congress built into it and was a pioneer back in the 1940s with the Administrative Procedure Act to allow for public input processes where anything we propose at PHMSA or anywhere else in the federal government in the form of a regulation, must be available for public comment.
Agency has to take those comments, and has to consider them. Then where they are substantive and thoughtful or insightful, we have to respond to what our take is on that public comment. We have to adequately justify why we’re even doing something in the first place.
We have an additional statutory bar that says you have to have the benefits if whatever you do exceed the cost and you have to demonstrate, and you have to do the same thing — a full record, public comment, respond to that public comment on that front.
Then, and this is unique to PHMSA, we have an advisory committee with industry representatives, public interest representatives, other governments like at state and local level representatives scrutinize what we do, provide comments. Then we have to respond to those comments.
Then it goes through similar reviews with the Office of the Secretary of Transportation as well the White House Office of Management and Budgets, Office of Information and Regulatory Analysis. If you’ve fallen asleep already, I forgive you.
That’s a long acronym and a long list. Then we have a process of petitions for reconsideration that in case after all that, we still got something wrong. Then we’re able to rectify additional items. We can modify and make technical corrections. Often, we also face lawsuits in that scenario I described where maybe one entity or a few entities are affected.
One thing we try to do is we build in a process that if we get something wrong, first of all, we want to hear about it in any of those means I just referenced. We want to have an opportunity to work things through and fix it.
We also have built in there more recently a lot of the rules you’ve covered in the last year or two. We’ll say if you’re a unique circumstance as an operator, come to us. Let us know. We have a process to consider that maybe you shouldn’t have to follow this particular rule or regulation. You’ve got to come with more than just “we think we’re unique.”
We do have that process. That’s some of what the Congress built in too, but that’s also some of our specific agency and statutes have built in. Of course, we philosophically believe we want to get it right.
There’s extra value when people understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. I have an open-door policy of meeting with stakeholders from all stripes. We do a lot of public forums to try and inform the work we do and attend, get out to conferences. Of course, we listen to the Pipeliners Podcast.
Tristan: That, I don’t want to forget.
Russel: I would say that I started attending the GPAC and LPAC meetings as one of the guys sitting against the wall probably 10 years ago now. One of the things I learned in that process is just how deliberative it is and how many different forums and vehicles, and the way the stew is made.
There’s a lot of simmering going on. A lot of things are being added to the mix over time and a lot of simmering is going on. Whenever a new rule comes out, the rule might be 5 pages long, but the analysis upfront and the justification could be 100 pages.
That 100 pages is a distillation to a fraction of what was considered to get there. I find often that with the new rules, it’s way more valuable to read that than the actual rule.
Tristan: That’s it. You captured it well. I’d say the frustrating part for everyone is it’s hard to create a rule for everyone because people are very different. Operators are very different. That’s when you end up getting a more complex rule to try to account for every minute potential difference and how somebody is going to have to implement something.
If we only had to create a rule for the top 20 percent of operators, that would be an easier thing to do, or the bottom 20 percent. When you have to write something to account for every different situation across the largest, most sophisticated pipeline system in the world, upwards of 1,000 operators, it’s tough.
I appreciate everybody. Part of the way we get it done is the public input process and, like you said, the advisory committee.
Russel: You’re not just writing the rule for the operators either. You’re writing the rule for all the stakeholders. That’s one of the things that it’s easy to lose sight of when you work with the operators is that these rules are not written by operators for operators.
These rules are written by the public for operators with the operators being part of the public. That’s different because there’s other people who have material interest in what we do. I want to talk a little bit too. You talked about all of the processes that exists in the rule-making, but there’s also other processes out there as well that have to do with interacting with Congress.
How does that impact what PHMSA does? Ultimately, you guys work under their direction.
Tristan: We definitely want to be responsive to each and every member of Congress who plays an important role in representing the views of their constituents in our larger process. Those who are interested in our work, and I’ve got to say, it’s a smaller subset of Congress that gets into PHMSA’s business and focuses on that. We’re grateful.
Whether we agree or disagree, just generally, having people that are interested in our work, we welcome and appreciate. There is a general sense that safety is good and that we want to improve processes that ultimately will continue to improve safety.
We’ll get questions. I had to testify a few months ago in one of our committees of jurisdiction. We get a lot of requests for review of legislation that involves our agency. Even sometimes, there’s only tangential.
I think of the cybersecurity legislation in the last few years where we don’t have direct authority over cybersecurity, but we do have very tangential authority in that when there is a cyber incident, for example at the Colonial Pipeline a few years ago, the operation said that we do have oversight over who is potentially affected.
We work closely with both Congress and our other fellow agencies. I’m big on collaboration in all of its forms with everybody, finding those common interests, but the increasingly complex challenges that we face within the sector requires agencies working together at the federal level, but also certainly at the state level.
In the private sector, I’ll say too, in case I forget, because we do value our state partners. For the first time, at least in memory, we got a budget proposed by the president that calls for full support for our state partners at 80 percent, which has been authorized but not been granted for many, many years.
That’s a long answer to your question about working with Congress, but lots to say on that front.
Russel: What it points out for me, Tristan, is just how complex this is because you think of the number of stakeholders, the number of conversations, the number of viewpoints. When you start to think about it, it’s amazing we ever get in any rule abide.
Tristan: It does feel that way. I like to say I have a lot of bosses. 535 Members of Congress, anybody in the Secretary’s office, the White House, and all our stakeholders. We want to be responsive to everybody.
Russel: Fundamentally, you work for the public. The rest of it is just structured to have that work, right?
Tristan: 330 million. Exactly. You’re right.
Russel: It’s also interesting, too. I’ve said this before, but I’ll get your take on it, and this is a philosophical question. The framers were brilliant in the way they put our government together. It was designed to be inefficient but deliberative.
That demonstrates an uncommon brilliance around just understanding humans and what it takes to get humans with diverse opinions to move forward together as a people.
Tristan: Yeah. No. I studied over there in the United Kingdom, and they’ve got a little different approach with the Prime Minister and very, very quick changes of government and with a great deal of swiftness. We’re, like you said, a little bit more deliberate in our processes, which can be also the pace of things globally is quite quick in markets and data and information transmission.
I agree. I’m proud of the system we have and all that it’s produced, but I do think we have to find new ways of working within the system that advance our common interests in a more quick manner because the challenges are great on everybody.
I gave a speech to the Energy Bar Association last fall and talked about how as a government agency we have a lot more in demand of us producing more safety results, environmental results, but doing it with relatively fewer resources and overseeing more stuff.
That’s a lot. That’s a big burden, but at the same time, the regulated community has more demands from shareholders and stakeholders, customers. They have many of the same burdens that we put on folks. We’ve got to find a way to navigate some of these big challenges together.
Russel: That’s well said. It’s well said. Pivoting a little bit, our process, this robust process we’re talking about, the way our government works. It’s deliberative. It can move slowly. A lot of times, we’re making decisions out of hindsight.
We’re looking backwards at things that have occurred, and we’re making decisions. We’re making rules because of things that have occurred. How do we pivot that perspective and start to have that to be we’re making decisions based on foresight and what’s coming at us given the realities of technology and what’s going on environmentally and so forth?
Tristan: In like a conceptual answer is transparency. We just have to be transparent with the challenges that we see. I know that it can be hard in a competitive space that the regulated community may find itself where they share what they see as a challenge.
Maybe that makes them less competitive with their competitors, or maybe it opens them up to some liability with government regulation or that thing. I do think that’s the inevitable answer. The data that can drive decisions certainly in the marketplace that is increasingly omnipresent.
Again, if you’re not transparent about the challenges you have, say, a safety risk, then you’re at real risk of there being a big industry calamity that can disrupt a lot of how things work.
It’s maybe a microcosm or maybe not, but you can look at the railroad industry, the class one freight railroad industry, and the impact of the East Palestine incident and how that has upended and shown a spotlight on an industry for which there’s a lot of data that didn’t use to exist but now in the age we live in exists and there’s a spotlight on it.
There’s a question of why progress hasn’t been made in a lot of these areas that are well known. There’s a lot of lessons to be learned about just being straightforward with the challenges that exist and coming up with some paths forward on them.
Russel: That’s easy to say. It’s very hard to do in the current environment.
Tristan: Yeah. No, that’s right. I look at a couple of incidents in the last couple of decades that I was involved in just mostly on the regulatory side of things, but the Deepwater Horizon incident and the Boeing 737 MAX incident when folks…I look at it a little bit as hubris.
In both instances, you had entities that were saying, “We got this. We’re very good at navigating safety issues, and we don’t think we need the government telling us to impose more robust regulation or oversight over what we’re doing.”
Again, both of those are some pretty big earthquakes for these sectors. No matter how you look at it, the tragic loss of life or the just absolute devastation in the market cap of the companies or…
Russel: Environmental impacts.
Tristan: Environmental impacts. Exactly.
Russel: Yeah, all that. One of the things that comes up for me in this conversation is that the role of the — I mean this as a question — the role of the regulator is not to tell people what to do. The role of the regulator is to define the rules of the road.
It’s not saying this is how you drive your car from A to B, it’s more we’re going to lay out a highway and these are the ways we’re all going to drive together on the highway. You need that to be able to all drive together on the highway.
If you start looking forward, do you have to say how the rules of the road are going to need to change given the reality of what the road is going to look like?
Tristan: A comment that that raises, because there are certainly entities in the regulator community that think we set a standard that is a low bar and they are looking to exceed it. There are definitely operators that say we’re meeting the regulations.
We’ve already got other demands on our capital. We’re keeping up with this. We’re not worried about the next regulatory…I’m a big fan of your podcast. I’ve heard my good friend, Keith Coyle, say this about some of the regs that in the late 2020 timeframe, that folks were waiting around for new regs and waiting for them to be finalized.
When we propose a reg, it’s unlikely you’re going to see a higher bar in the proposals of a final stage, just by virtue of how that process works. That proposal stage is the stage to say, “All right, you know what’s coming.” You can start raising that bar now. We had rules in the proposal stage for seven years.
Russel: I have direct experience with that. I was out doing SCADA projects and the control remanagement rule started rolling around through the process. I’m like, “What is control remanagement?” I went to school. This is going to be a tectonic shift.
The way that pipeline control centers operate is going to look radically different 10 years from here than it does now. More than just knowing what the rule says, I need to understand the why behind the rule and the science behind the rule as it’s made.
That was — I don’t want to say a wake-up call — but it was certainly a career shift for me. I got excited about the business again, because now instead of me being a technologist, I’m a safety warrior. I can get behind that idea.
Tristan: Control room design, as you covered I think last week or the week before, and how impactful that can be. Really fascinating topic. I do think your question is the right one to be asking. It’s one certainly we ask a lot and one that Congress has been contemplating. Do we have prescriptive regulations? Do we have performance-based regulations?
I don’t know if a universal answer is the right answer. Just anecdotally in the last few years, we’ve seen some pretty big high-profile failures where we had companies just not following the basics of what they needed to do. It’s certainly disconcerting.
We certainly want to try to foolproof things. It’s not so much of an option of following essential safety items, like notification when something goes wrong to first responders or to the regulator. We have to balance that basic prescription, versus we don’t want to tell you that you have to use Nokia cellphone to call us, versus…
Russel: A lot goes in a world that line gets drawn. Here’s the last question I would like to ask you. How do we, as an industry, particularly around new technologies, how do we get appropriately nimble?
I’m planning a podcast on, maybe in collaboration with API, around technology and commercialization. How do we get appropriately nimble so that we can improve safety performance and have that be more in our DNA?
Tristan: It’s a thoughtful question. It’s one that Congressman Johnson from South Dakota asked me, and one that we’re delighted to hear. There was a provision in the PIPES Act to try to create some avenues for piloting new technology allowing for more nimbleness. We want that.
Then the question is how do you get there? We have laws that govern the work that we do. Environmental impact analysis requirement. In every case, that may not be necessary. At least from my perspective, how do you balance legal requirements with the law and encouraging…?
We want to encourage innovation and deployment of new technology that can help solve safety and environmental problems. I don’t have an easy answer for you other than I feel like with the level and intelligence across the sector here and our common goals, we should be able to get there.
We just got to figure out how to write the rules. Perfect time to ask that astute question, Russel, because we’re facing a reauthorization in Congress this year where some of our authorities expire later this year. I’m sure there’s broad interest in answering that question with that thoughtful legislative update or the like.
Russel: Final question, is there anything you’d like to leave as a parting statement to pipeliners?
Tristan: Just to emphasize, I’ve been so lucky to grow up in this country and lucky to be serving the American people multiple times, but I value the work most of your listeners involved in this industry do on a daily basis. It’s tough. Certainly rewarding for a lot of folks. Just appreciate the work and the commitment to safety.
Hope we can work towards our common goals of improving safety, environmental protection. Especially want everybody to know we’re hiring at PHMSA. We’ve got all kinds of jobs. I’d encourage you to take a look. We also offer a lot of flexibility in locations. We’ve got remote workers in 36 states.
We’ve got eight regional offices around the country. Obviously, at headquarters as well is a ninth office. We just welcome you as well your ideas and suggestions. We do a lot of public forums. We have an open door policy up and down the agency to engage and get new ideas and suggestions.
Of course, this is also a great venue to bring your ideas and suggestions too. Make sure to comment and listen and contribute to the dialog that happens here every week because it covers the gamut of the common work that we do, advancing safety and efficiency in our pipeline sector.
Thank you. Thanks again, Russel, for all you do and the folks you work with to produce this podcast and the guests. Really enjoy it. Long time listener, first time guest.
Russel: Tristan, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us and have this conversation. I really enjoyed it. Look forward to doing it again sometime.
Tristan: Sounds great. Thank you so much, Russel.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Tristan. 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.
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