PHMSA Issues MS Carbon Pipeline Failure Penalty


In what is being called the second largest civil penalty issued in the agency’s history, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration entered into a consent order last month over a 2020 carbon dioxide pipeline failure.

The pipeline, owned by Denbury Gulf Coast Pipelines of Texas, ruptured in Satartia, Mississippi, sending 45 residents to the hospital.

What Happened

On Feb. 22, 2020, a 24-inch Delta Pipeline owned by Denbury ruptured, releasing 31,405 barrels of CO2. This liquid CO2 then vaporized at atmospheric conditions. Because the vapor is heavier than air, it displaces oxygen and acts and asphyxiant to humans and animals.

The incident required the town to be evacuated and sent 45 people to the hospital, exhibiting symptoms of CO2 poisoning and oxygen deprivation. No fatalities were reported.

A PHMSA investigation found that the rupture followed heavy rains that resulted in a landslide, leading to excessive axial strain on a pipeline weld and full circumferential girth weld failure.

The investigation reportedly revealed that several factors contributed to the incident, including Denbury not addressing the risk of geohazards and underestimating potentially affected areas in its dispersion model.

Additionally, local emergency responders were allegedly not informed by Denbury of the rupture, including the safety risks of the CO2 pipeline.

At the time of its failure report, the PHMSA noted that the event demonstrated the need for:

  • Pipeline company awareness and mitigation efforts directed at addressing integrity threats due to changing climate, geohazards, and soil stability issues; and
  • Improved public engagement efforts to ensure public and emergency responder awareness of nearby CO2 pipeline and pipeline facilities and what to do if a CO2 release occurs. This is especially important for communities in low-lying areas, with certain topographical features such as rivers and valleys.

The pipe was reportedly manufactured in 2007 and installed by Denbury in 2009. It was coated with fusion bonded epoxy and installed by horizontal direction drill. During construction, PHMSA notes that Denbury welded the pipe joints using an API 1104 qualified welding procedures.

The maximum operating pressure was 2,160 pounds per square inch gauge. However, at the time of the rupture, Denbury was reportedly operating the pipeline at an estimated pressure of 1,400 psig, above the 1,070 psig needed to maintain CO2 in a supercritical state.

Latest PHMSA Penalty

Last year, according to the Pipeline Safety Trust, the PHMSA proposed a $3,866,734 civil penalty against Denbury for non-compliance associated with the failure. This year, in March, Denbury and PHMSA settled on a penalty of $2,868,100, nearly $1 million under the initial proposal.

“Denbury had an obligation to liaise with first responders in areas they transport hazardous materials, and they didn’t follow through,” said Pipeline Safety Trust Communications Director Kenneth Clarkson. “We hope that the consequences Denbury faces as a result of its failure to protect the public prevents devastating incidents like this one from occurring in the future.”

In the recent consent order, the administration reportedly stated that PHMSA proposed a $3,866,734 civil penalty against Denbury for non-compliance associated with the failure. This March, Denbury and PHMSA settled on a penalty of $2,868,100, nearly $1 million under the initial proposal. 

Additionally, as a result of the penalty, the PHMSA has issued an advisory bulletin to all pipeline operators highlighting the immediate need to plan for land movement and geohazard threats to pipeline integrity. 

“We need operators to spend more resources on tracking and preventing geohazards such as land movement and the threats they pose to pipelines,” Clarkson said.

Denbury must also meet compliance requirements written in the consent order, including:

  • Upgrading their geohazard program to identify and mitigate the threat of geohazards;
  • Using revised plume dispersion models to take into account newly-defined High Consequence Areas (HCAs), or “could-affect” HCAs; and
  • Identifying and communicating with all first responders and stakeholders that would be in jurisdiction to respond to a pipeline incident from a Denbury pipeline.

“The Satartia incident was truly a warning,” Clarkson said. “We hope operators learn from this incident and that PHMSA’s prospective CO2 regulations will ensure communities and the environment are protected from the dangers of CO2 pipelines.”

The PHMSA also plans to hold public meetings on May 31 and June 1 in Des Moines, Iowa, as residents in the state have expressed concern over similar projects and the 2020 incident. Regulators said they are holding the meetings to help inform “rulemaking decisions” to discuss emergency responses to a pipeline break, including needed equipment and training; dispersion modeling; and safety measures like leak detection and reporting, among other issues.

Recent PHMSA News

Earlier this month, the PHMSA proposed a new rule to improve the detection and repair of leaks from gas pipelines. According to the release, the proposed rule is directed by the bipartisan PIPES Act of 202 to create jobs, deploy pipeline workers nationwide and prevent dangerous actions.

The DOT reports that the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would enhance public safety and lower methane emissions and other air pollution from more than 2.7 million miles of gas transmission, distribution, and gathering pipelines; 400+ underground natural gas storage facilities; and 165 liquefied natural gas facilities. 

Additionally, it would update decades-old federal leak detection and repair standards in favor of new requirements that add an additional layer of safety by deploying commercially available, advanced technologies to find and fix leaks of methane and other flammable, toxic and corrosive gases.

Overall, the rule could reduce emissions from covered pipelines by up to 55%. The proposal also requires pipeline operators to establish advanced leak detection programs aimed at detecting and repairing all gas leaks by: 

  • Strengthening leakage survey and patrolling requirements by increasing the frequency of surveys and requiring the use of commercially available, advanced leak detection technology—such as aerial or vehicle surveys, handheld detection devices, and continuous monitoring systems—with flexibility for operators to use a range of approaches to meet a minimum performance standard;
  • Reducing the volume of gas released due to unintentional emissions like leaks and equipment failures and revising the reporting minimum threshold to detect smaller leaks sooner;
  • Minimizing intentional releases, such as those caused by equipment venting or blowdowns, associated with pipeline maintenance, repair, and construction and encouraging operators to consider cost-effective equipment that can capture the methane for later use; and
  • Establishing explicit criteria and timeframes for the timely repair of all leaks that pose a risk to public safety or the environment.

The proposed rule has reportedly been transmitted to the Federal Register. A publication date will be provided when it becomes available along with an opportunity to provide public comment.



Tagged categories: Accidents; Carbon dioxide; Civil Penalty; Compliance; Environmental Controls; Government; Health & Safety; Health and safety; NA; North America; PHMSA; Pipeline; Pipelines; Program/Project Management; Regulations

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