Updates Proposed for Gas Pipeline Regulations


At the end of last month, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration proposed a new rulemaking to strengthen safety requirements for millions of miles of gas distribution pipelines.

These changes reportedly aim to improve safety and mitigate risk through the improvement of emergency response plans, integrity management plans, operation manuals and more.

“Every day, millions of miles of gas distribution pipelines deliver energy to tens of millions of Americans, helping heat homes and power businesses,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

“But as the tragic death of Leonel Rondon in 2018 reminded us, more must be done to ensure the safety of those pipelines - which is why we are announcing a new proposed rule to strengthen pipeline safety regulations and protect the public.”

Rondon died as the result of a gas explosion in Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts, which also injured dozens and damaged more than 100 structures.

This Notice of Proposed Rulemaking implements Congressionally mandated revisions from the Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act—enacted as part of the Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety (PIPES) Act of 2020, as well as to address National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendations.

According to the administration, major pieces of the proposal include:

  • Improving construction procedures designed to minimize the risk of incidents caused by system over-pressurization;
  • Updating Distribution Integrity Management Programs to cover and prepare for over-pressurization incidents;
  • Requiring new regulator stations to be designed with secondary pressure relief valves and remote gas monitoring, to better prepare gas distribution systems to avoid over pressurizations, and limit damage during incidents; and
  • Strengthening emergency response plans for gas pipeline emergencies, including requirements for operators to contact local emergency responders and keep customers and the affected public informed of what to do in the event of an emergency.

“This proposal incorporates lessons from the 2018 Merrimack Valley tragedy to help ensure something like that never happens again,” said PHMSA Deputy Administrator Tristan Brown. “These changes will protect communities and the environment, as well as lower energy costs for consumers.”

Additionally, the rule reportedly builds on other national and international actions advanced by Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration to reduce methane emissions, including the U.S. Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan and the $1 billion Natural Gas Distribution Infrastructure Safety and Modernization grant program.

MA Pipeline Legislation

On Wednesday (Sept. 13), Massachusetts Senator Edward J. Markey marked the five-year anniversary of the Merrimack Valley gas explosions. He also applauded the proposed rulemaking from the PHMSA.

Markey introduced the Penalizing and Improving Prevention of Emergencies (PIPE) Act, which aims to “close loopholes and lift barriers” so the PHMSA can protect communities from pipeline accidents, as well as ensure companies are held accountable.

“It’s been five years since the Columbia Gas explosions devastated the communities of Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover. The Merrimack Valley is still healing. The family of Leonel Rondon is still grieving,” said Senator Markey, who is also the chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate, and Nuclear Safety and a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

“We must continue making progress by delivering stronger protections and allowing our federal regulators to make swift, effective safety standards. Federal regulators should have all the tools they need to hold bad actors accountable—not be held hostage by industry interests.”

Specifically, according to the senator, the PIPE Act would:

  • Remove a requirement for an unnecessary analysis that prioritizes company profits in safety rulemakings;
  • Close a loophole in the law that restricts PHMSA from applying updated regulations to pipelines that are already installed;
  • Empower PHMSA to deliver greater civil penalties and hold bad actors criminally liable for violating rules; and,
  • Prohibit the release of gas or hazardous liquids from any pipeline.

The PIPE Act is endorsed by the Pipeline Safety Trust and Public Citizen.

Safety and Modernization Grants

In April, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and the PHMSA announced $196 million in funding from a new grant program to improve public safety, protect public health, and reduce methane emissions from natural gas distribution pipes.

The funding was awarded to 37 projects across 19 states through the Natural Gas Distribution Infrastructure Safety and Modernization program, which was established by the bipartisan infrastructure law.

The grant program will reportedly provide nearly $1 billion in funding over the course of five years to modernize municipally and community-owned natural gas distribution pipes, helping to keep communities across the country safe from pipeline leaks.

For the latest round of projects, the grants are anticipated to repair, replace, or rehabilitate nearly 270 miles of pipe, thereby reducing methane emissions by approximately 212 metric tons, annually.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Explosions; Government; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Laws and litigation; NA; North America; Oil and Gas; PHMSA; Pipeline; Pipelines; Pipes; Program/Project Management; Regulations; Safety; Surface Preparation

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