Pipeline Safety: Trying to Get Ahead of The Issues

PHMSA4Changes are coming on pipeline safety.  They have to. The pipeline industry has a great opportunity and a great challenge.  The opportunity – big increases in volume and the chance to take more business away from rail.    The challenge – overcoming public concerns over safety.  Industry and the agency that regulates pipelines, PHMSA, seem to be racing to get ahead of the headlines.

Just yesterday, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power held a hearing on pipeline safety, spurred by the recent spill in California.  Committee Chairman Fred Upton took PHMSA to task for putting a new pipeline safety law into place fast enough: “I am disappointed that more than one-third of its requirements remain incomplete long after congressionally mandated deadlines have passed.”

For its part, PHMSA says it is working to toughen regulations and enforcement.  The acting head testified yesterday that PHMSA plans to add more than 100 new positions, 80% of them in the field.  The agency is working with states to improve coordination, a long-term problem.

The most significant step came late last week when the agency released a proposed rule that would make significant changes in incident reporting, qualifications of pipeline workers and drug and alcohol reporting.   PHMSA will take comments on the proposed rule until early September.

However, all that takes time.  The new hires may not come for another year and will require training.  Proposed rules can take years to become finalized.

The biggest most immediate change comes from industry itself, in coordination with the government.  API has just announced a new recommended practice for pipeline safety management, called API RP 1173.   It is voluntary and it is brand new, but it the experience of API RP 75, the offshore safety management program, are a guide, this change may be a key to addressing industry safety concerns.

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