August 2020, Vol. 247, No. 8


PHMSA Proposed Controversial Changes for Liquid Pipelines

By Stephen Barlas, Contributing Editor, Washington, D.C.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is in the process of seeking comments on a number of pipeline regulatory reform proposals, one focusing on hazardous liquid pipelines, the other on distribution pipelines. 

Both are the result of Trump administration executive orders generally requiring all federal agencies to review their regulations and weed out those that may be unduly burdensome or no longer applicable. 

The proposed rule on hazardous liquid lines is the more controversial and comprehensive of the two with pipelines, local officials and environmental groups all finding something, and sometimes more than one thing, they dislike about the proposal; although, industry players have found much to like, too.

The proposal focuses on how data are submitted to the agency, which pipelines are under the regulation, when accidents and spills have to be reported and a number of other technical issues, which might seem like minutia to an outside observer. 

Thure Cannon, president of the Texas Pipeline Association, wrote that he “is generally supportive of the proposed rules but believes that there are some issues with a portion of the proposed rule.”

Among the top-line changes are those with regard to submission of information to the agency in response to inspections and investigations. The effort here is to make it easier to exchange electronic information with the agency in a format that allows the agency to do things like magnify or search for text. 

To make electronic access by PHMSA more predictable and useful, the agency wants pipeline companies to submit the electronic data to (1) disable the use of activation codes; (2) disable any unnecessary internet connectivity requirements; (3) disable any document-tracking features; (4) ensure that any “time-out” feature be set to a reasonable amount of time, but no shorter than one hour; and (5) not impose any pre-access conditions (e.g., through log-in agreements or notifications) that hinder PHMSA’s ability to use records displayed on the portal. 

Matthew Hite, vice president of Government Affairs, GPA Midstream Association, opposed those changes in comments to PHMSA. He supports “modest changes,” such as requiring operators to designate a point of contact for addressing issues with electronic or digital submissions and establishing a process for the agency to request that documents be submitted in an alternative format in appropriate cases.

He made the additional point that regulations from the Transportation Security Agency’s (TSA) requirements for submitting sensitive security information mandate operators include certain markings on information submitted to PHMSA and other federal agencies.

Another controversial issue is the agency’s apparent decision to continue to require operators to submit a redacted copy of records in rulemaking proceedings and in applications for special permits and renewals – but not in other instances, which is a change, because those documents must be placed in a public docket.

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