March 2016, Vol. 243, No. 3


Liquid Pipeline Safety Proposal Criticized from All Sides

Reaction to the PHMSA’s proposed rule (NPRM) to tighten liquid pipeline safety regulations has run along predictable lines. The pipelines think the proposal is too expansive and expensive. The environmental community and some notable safety experts believe the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) should have gone further.

“We are greatly frustrated by the NPRM’s many deficiencies,” said Lois Epstein, Arctic program director at The Wilderness Society. “Our organizations are concerned that this very long rulemaking process did not produce a more substantial regulatory product.” Epstein submitted comments on behalf of several environmental groups.

Susan Ginsberg, vice president of Crude Oil and Natural Gas Regulatory Affairs, at the Independent Petroleum Association of America, is miffed about PHMSA’s intention to extend reporting requirements to all gathering lines. This would require owners of all gathering lines, whether onshore, offshore, regulated or not, to submit annual, safety-related condition and incident reports. She maintains this requirement exceeds PHMSA’s statutory authority. Moreover, the proposal is targeted at pipelines that, at most, have caused 1.9% of the reportable accidents in the last five years.

She argues that PHMSA cannot regulate gathering lines until it submits a report to Congress required by the Pipeline Safety Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act of 2011. PHMSA said it submitted that report in 2015. But it was essentially a compilation of existing regulations. Congress mandated an analysis of the sufficiency of existing regulation and the costs and benefits of additional regulation. “The May 8, 2015 study is merely a first step in that analysis and does not fulfill the congressional mandate,” argues Ginsberg.

But state regulators are onboard with heighten attention to gathering lines. Steve Allen, national chairman of the National Association of Pipeline Safety Representatives, said NAPSR, whose members enforce liquid pipeline safety in 14 states, agreed with inclusion of all gathering lines under the reporting requirements.

PHMSA is also proposing to extend reporting requirements to gravity lines as well. Another proposal requires inspections of pipelines in areas affected by extreme weather, natural disasters and similar events. All pipelines subject to the integrity management (IM) requirements would have to be capable of accommodating inline inspection (ILI) tools within 20 years, unless the basic construction of a pipeline cannot be modified to permit that accommodation. Leak detection systems would have to be installed on hazardous liquid pipelines in all locations. Criticism of this proposal focuses on the lack of standards for these leak detection systems. Pipeline repair criteria would be made stricter, too.

The proposed rule contains a section that dictates pipelines take certain actions after “an extreme weather incident.” It suggests pipeline inspections will be required if any of the specified weather events occur. The American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Association of Oil Pipe Lines (AOPL) argue the proposal fails to take into account the nuances that accompany events such as hurricanes, which range in intensity and the potential for damage. In some instances the particular design and construction characteristics might, in and of themselves, mitigate the exposure or risk.

A broader requirement would force operators to periodically assess pipelines outside of high consequence areas (HCAs). The big concern is pipelines would have to assess non-HCA pipeline segments with an ILI tool or “tools capable of detecting corrosion and deformation anomalies, including dents, cracks, gouges and grooves…” at least once every10 years. If a segment is not capable of accommodating an ILI tool, an operator could use an alternative assessment method, provided it gives prior notice to PHMSA and demonstrates that the alternative methodology renders “a substantially equivalent understanding of the pipeline’s condition in light of the threats that could affect its safe operation.” PHMSA proposes requiring use of ILI tools for non-HCA pipelines for all forms of potential pipeline anomalies, regardless of whether such issues are present in the pipeline.

This has caused pipeline executives to scratch their heads because companies are not required to use ILI on pipelines in HCAs. So why force them to use ILI outside HCAs? That view gets some support from NAPSR’s Allen, who feels PHMSA should allow pressure testing in lieu of ILI. “Pressure testing may be more economical for operators with legacy piping with no material records or operating and maintenance records,” said Allen.

Richard B. Kuprewicz, president, Accufacts Inc., who is critical of the entire PHMSA liquids IM program, nonetheless agrees that an ironclad ILI requirement for non-HCA segments is probably unnecessary, maybe even unwise. “I support the advanced use of ILI technology when it has been proven to be field reliable, meaning there is a high confidence in a tool’s tolerance values, for specific pipeline threats.

However, there have been too many premature pipeline failures after ILI tool runs and so-called ‘conservative’ engineering assessments. The specific identification of ILI tools for corrosion and deformation in the NPRM reflect the more advanced state of ILI tools for these specific threats, but even these tools can be mismanaged if proper tool tolerances are not incorporated in their use, or the tool results not timely communicated or prudently managed in a pipeline IM program.”

While Kuprewicz’ view on ILI may comfort pipeline companies, he is critical of the industry’s implementation of IM, arguing that recent investigations prove that “too many pipeline operators are misapplying risk management and IM assessment approaches, violating federal minimum pipeline safety regulations, apparently in short-sighted efforts to reduce costs.” He wants to see PHMSA require more detailed information about IM assessment choices, their findings, and subsequent repairs made public. He calls the absence of suitable public performance tracking metrics concerning transmission pipeline IM “the most significant gap in the above NPRM.”

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