PHMSA Toughens Pipeline Safety Rules

January 25, 2017

The US Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued new regulations on Accident and Incident Notification, Cost Recovery, Operator Qualification, and other Pipeline Safety Changes. The new rules include more stringent requirements for incident reporting, drug testing, protecting confidential information, controller training, and design review cost recovery, among other things. The new rules are slated to become effective March 24, 2017, although it is possible they will be delayed in light of the regulatory freeze issued by the White House. Pipeline operators should familiarize themselves with these new regulations to ensure procedures are in place by the implementation deadline, to avoid potential penalties.

Pipeline Accident Notification

  • 49 CFR §191.5 currently requires pipeline operators to notify the National Response Center of a pipeline incident at the earliest practicable moment following confirmed discovery. The new regulation requires that notification “no later than one hour after confirmed discovery.”
  • Confirmed discovery is defined as “when it can be reasonably determined, based on information available to the operator at the time a reportable event has occurred, even if only based on a preliminary evaluation.”
  • The new regulation also requires pipeline operators to revise or confirm their initial telephonic/electronic notice of an incident within 48 hours after confirmed discovery, including confirmed or revised amount of product released, estimate of the number of fatalities and injuries, and all other significant facts that are known by the operator that are relevant to the cause of the incident or extent of the damages.

Drug and Alcohol Testing

  • Current regulations require post-accident drug testing of covered employees whose performance of a covered function either contributed to the accident or cannot be completely discounted as a contributing factor to the accident. The new regulation allows an operator to opt not to test only if the decision is “based on specific information that the covered employee's performance had no role in the cause(s) or severity of the accident.” If an operator does not timely test for drugs, it must prepare and maintain its decision stating the reasons why the test was not promptly administered. Similar changes were made to the post-accident alcohol test requirements. These records must be kept a minimum of three years.
  • Annual drug and alcohol test data (MIS reports) must now be submitted to PHMSA electronically.

Protecting Confidential Information

  • Information submitted to PHMSA may be submitted as confidential information. That information must be identified, marked “confidential” on each page, and supplied along with redacted and unredacted copies of the documents and an explanation of why the information is confidential commercial information. PHMSA will treat the information as confidential unless it notifies the provider to the contrary. Confidentiality will be reviewed by PHMSA using the criteria set forth in the Freedom of Information Act.

Control Room Center Training

  • PHMSA addressed an NTSB recommendation to expand operator qualification requirements to include control center roles and responsibilities during normal, abnormal, and emergency conditions.
  • PHMSA now also requires “team training” for control center staff similar to that used in other modes of transportation. The training and exercises must include both controllers and other individuals who would reasonably be expected to operationally collaborate with controllers during normal, abnormal, or emergency situations. This training must be implemented no later than January 23, 2018.

PHMSA Design Review Cost Recovery

  • Applicants seeking PHMSA facility design and/or construction safety reviews in connection with a proposal to construct, expand, or operate a gas, hazardous liquid, or carbon dioxide pipeline facility, or a liquefied natural gas facility that meets the applicability requirements in § 190.403, will now have to pay the costs incurred by PHMSA relating to such review, including the cost of design and construction safety reviews or inspections. This cost recovery applies to projects with overall design and construction costs totaling at least $2,500,000,000 or that use new or novel technologies or design as defined in 49 CFR §190.3.