Weekly Compliance Digest - U.S. Pipeline Accident Notification Rule

January 27, 2017
By Jean-Grégoire Manoukian

In this edition of the Weekly Compliance Digest, we cover a final rule by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) on pipeline safety and notification of accidents.

Pipeline Safety: Operator Qualification, Cost Recovery, Accident and Incident Notification, and Other Pipeline Safety Changes

What is it?

Earlier this week, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) published a final rule that lays out specific time frame requirements for telephonic or electronic notifications of accidents and incidents. The rule also amends drug and alcohol testing requirements, and incorporates consensus standards by reference for in-line inspection and Stress Corrosion Cracking Direct Assessment. The rule aims to strengthen Federal pipeline safety regulations. PHMSA says that quicker accident and incident reporting will lead to a safety benefit to the public, the environment, and limit property damage.

What are the provisions?

The final rule affects pipeline operators, and does the following:

  • Specifies an operator’s accident and incident reporting time to no later than one hour after confirmed discovery, and requires revision or confirmation of initial notification within 48 hours of the confirmed discovery of the accident or incident.
  • Addresses the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) recommendation to clarify training requirements for control room personnel involved in pipeline operational decisions by requiring team training similar to those used in other transportation modes.
  • Provides a renewal procedure for expiring special permits.
  • Excludes farm taps from the requirements of the Distribution Integrity Management Program (DIMP), while proposing safety requirements for farm taps that cover overpressure protection equipment. A farm tap is an individual service line that originates from a transmission, gathering, or production pipeline.
  • Requires pipeline operators to report to PHMSA a change in product (e.g. from liquid to gas, from crude oil to highly volatile liquids (HVL)) or a permanent reversal of flow that lasts more than 30 days. Operators must notify PHMSA electronically no later than 60 days before there is a change in the product flowing through a pipeline or when there is a reversal of the flow of product through a pipeline.
  • Requires electronic reporting of drug and alcohol testing results.
  • Modifies the criteria used to make decisions about conducting post-accident drug and alcohol tests. Drug testing of employees is required after an accident. An exemption is allowed from drug testing only when there is sufficient information that establishes the employee(s) had no role in the accident. Operators must keep for at least 3 years a record of the reason why post-accident drug and alcohol tests were not conducted.
  • Includes the procedure to request protection for confidential commercial information submitted to PHMSA.

What is next?

The final rule was published in the Federal Register on January 23, 2017, and has an effective date of March 24, 2017. However, as part of the “Regulatory Freeze Pending Review” action taken by the Trump administration on January 20, 2017, Federal agencies are instructed to withdraw rules sent to the Federal Register but not yet published, and temporarily postpone for 60 days the effective dates of published regulations that have not taken effect yet. Therefore, the effective date may be extended by 60 days to May 23, 2017.

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