PHMSA Eases Pipeline Regulations, Enforcement in Response to Pandemic

By Jeff Awalt, Executive Editor

(P&GJ) — Responding to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has issued two guidance documents that ease some operating requirements, allow discretion in enforcement and provide flexibility to support the agency's "state and industry partners."

PHMSA's Notice of Enforcement Discretion for Certain Gas Transmission Pipeline Requirements extends a July deadline for gas pipeline operators to meet compliance requirements under Part 192 of the so-called Mega Rule.

With the notice, PHMSA is effectively pushing the deadline to December 31, providing a temporary suspension of enforcement related to control room operating hours and operator qualification (OC) while easing some training requirements.

"Furthermore, PHMSA will not object to waivers, special permits, stays of enforcement, or similar measures granted by State authorities to intrastate gas pipeline operators for noncompliance with State regulations equivalent to the new Part 192 requirements listed above that are issued as a result of the National Emergency," the notice states.

PHMSA specified that the changes do not affect any other provisions of the Final Rule and do not apply to Part 191 reporting requirements or compliance deadlines. It also emphasized that operators must continue to comply with all safety regulations.

The notice issued Wednesday follows a March 19 document  titled, PHMSA Guidance to State Partners Regarding COVID-19, which provides that PHMSA will work with industry and state partners “to address any emergent need for special permits or state waivers and, if appropriate, reschedule some inspections as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.”

Describing the work of PHMSA and its state partners as “critical to the safety of the transportation and energy supply networks and the economic stability of our nation,” the guidance document says the agency intends to prioritize safety-sensitive inspections and investigations.

"States should identify critical work, such as priority and time-sensitive inspections and investigations, that should not be delayed and prioritize that work for completion," according to the guidance document.





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