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Older Pipelines May Face New Testing

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

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New pipeline record-keeping requirements are coming and old testing loopholes long enjoyed by older systems may be going, federal regulators warned operators this week.

In an advisory bulletin issued Tuesday (May 8), the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration reminded gas pipeline facilities to preserve and verify records related to maximum allowable operating pressure (MAOP) and told hazardous liquid operators that they should do the same for maximum operating pressure (MOP).

 Pacific Gas & Electric vice president Nick Stavropoulos (left) discusses the company’s hydrostatic testing in a television interview.

 David Kligman

Pacific Gas & Electric vice president Nick Stavropoulos (left) discusses the company’s hydrostatic testing in a television interview. The testing, which ruptured several PG&E gas lines last fall, may be required on all older transmission lines nationwide.

“Traceable, verifiable and accurate recordkeeping in the pipeline world is crucial,” said PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman. “It enables us to respond more quickly in the event of an emergency, as well as gives us a more accurate snapshot of the overall infrastructure.”

Record Requirements

The advisory reminds owners and operators that records supporting MAOP and MOP should be traceable, verifiable, complete and clearly linked to original information about a pipeline segment or facility. The records must also be verified by complimentary, but separate, documentation.

To be considered complete, pipeline records must display a signature, date or other appropriate marking to show the operator considers it to be a final document.

The revisions reflect new requirements for reporting procedures in the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011, which President Obama signed Jan. 3. The oil and gas pipeline industry supported the measure.

Pipeline Safety Measures

The new procedures provide key safety data to help PHMSA address National Transportation Safety Board recommendations and make other minor changes to improve the overall quality of pipeline safety data.

“Collecting good data about pipelines is essential to keeping the people living near them safe,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “This is just the latest in the Department of Transportation’s efforts to improve pipeline safety, including adding more pipeline inspectors and educating both the industry and communities nationwide about the role they can play.”

The President’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget request includes a 60 percent increase above Fiscal Year 2012 for PHMSA’s pipeline safety program. The additional funds would be used to hire more inspectors, increase coordination among states, and educate the public.

Tougher Testing Considered

Tuesday’s advisory also tipped the public that PHMSA is considering scrapping a grandfather clause that allowed gas transmission operators to establish the MAOP of pipe installed before 1970 by relying upon historical records.

If that clause is eliminated, operators of those older systems would have to reestablish MAOP using hydrostatic pressure testing.

Such testing is expensive, time-consuming and can occasionally push old pipes to the breaking point. Pacific Gas & Electric has been conducting widespread hydrostatic pressure testing on its gas transmission lines since the San Bruno disaster, and the tests have ruptured several pipelines. (A PG&E video explains the testing process.)

The NTSB recommended the elimination of the grandfather clause. Tuesday’s advisory says PHMSA will begin to gather public input on the idea.

Reporting Updates Proposed

The advisory followed a PHMSA Notice of April 13, outlining proposals to update accident and incident reporting forms for hazardous liquid, gas transmission, and gas gathering pipeline systems. The Notice also explains PHMSA’s consideration of a number of changes to the annual report form used by operators of natural gas transmission and gathering pipeline systems.

Comments on the proposal must be submitted by June 12, 2012, and should include the agency name and docket number “PHMSA-2012-0024” at the beginning of each comment submitted.


Tagged categories: Health and safety; Oil and Gas; Pipeline; Quality control; Regulations

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (5/10/2012, 8:14 AM)

Better to rupture a pipeline using water under controlled conditions than with gas at some random time.

Comment from James Johnson, (5/10/2012, 11:19 AM)

PHMSA is legislation passed bt Congress. The real question is if a government agency has the power to alter, change or delete such legislation. I rather think they do not. It appears the object of the current administration is not safety, but to press every costly regulation they can to increase the cost of energy to better achieve their agenda. I really doubt safety has anything to do with this new proposed regulation. If safety were the issue they would do research as to how many failures were happneing under the current regulation to determine a risk factor.

Comment from James Johnson, (5/10/2012, 11:23 AM)

“Traceable, verifiable and accurate recordkeeping in the pipeline world is crucial,” I wish someone would explain the necessity of that to Eric Holder.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (5/11/2012, 8:36 AM)

James, legislation is typically the broad strokes while regulation is where you get into the nitty-gritty details. Changing the regulations typically doesn't require Congress, as long as it stays within the scope and limits defined by the original legislation. Judging by the articles on PaintSquare, there have been too many pipeline failures and too many deaths. These "grandfathered" lines are not the "known quantity" that their owners/operators are supposed to have. They have been demonstrated to be operating blind. The San Bruno PG&E explosion exposed shoddy (or falsified) records and a much more hazardous pipeline than the records indicated. It was built with practices which weren't allowed even back when it was installed! The followup hydrotesting on the rest of the line showed even more substandard/dangerous line sections by rupturing during hydrotesting. It's past time to get serious about pipeline safety. Are you seriously arguing that 40+ year-old lines which were never hydro-tested to begin with should still be exempted from any type of actual performance testing?

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