Gas Pipeline Methane Emissions Under Congressional Scrutiny; PHMSA Issues Proposed Rulemaking Concerning Leak Detection and Repair

By: Kurt L. Krieger, Kevin W. Hivick Jr.

Published: May 15, 2023

On May 4, 2023, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (the NPRM) concerning natural gas pipeline leak detection and repair. The move comes as part of the implementation of the Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act of 2020 (the PIPES Act). Pursuant to the PIPES Act, PHMSA states the goal of the NPRM is a reduction in methane emissions from certain natural gas facilities – including regulated gathering, transmission, and distribution pipelines.

The NPRM proposes amendments to 49 CFR 191-193 – the federal pipeline safety regulations – with an aim of reducing “fugitive,” “vented,” and “intentional” emissions from “2.7 million miles of gas transmission, distribution, and gathering pipelines and other gas pipeline facilities as well as 403 underground natural gas storage facilities (UNGSF) and 165 liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities.” Accordingly, the proposed amendments are of particular concern to operators of federally regulated gas pipelines.

The changes to the federal pipeline safety regulations are centered on 49 CFR 192; however, some modifications to 49 CFR 191 and 193 have also been proposed. Under the NPRM, pipeline regulatory changes may include: (i) enhancing leakage survey and patrolling; (ii) implementing advanced leak detection programs; (iii) mandating the grading and repair of all pipeline leaks; (iv) establishing minimum criteria for leak grades and associated repair schedules; (v) mandating reductions in intentional sources of methane emissions; (vi) requiring operators to reduce emissions associated with pressure relief devices; (vii) codifying federal requirements for pipeline operators to produce written procedures to eliminate hazardous leaks, minimize releases of natural gas, and remediate or replace pipelines known to leak; and (viii) requiring gathering line operators to submit geospatial pipeline location data to the National Pipeline Mapping System. Notably, the NPRM also includes additional regulatory changes concerning UNGSFs and LNG facilities.

While regulatory shifts were expected in the wake of the PIPES Act’s passage, the specific details presented here will pose challenges to pipeline operators across the country. Pipeline operators may consider taking part in the comment process to help shape the final rule. Additionally, operators should work with energy regulatory lawyers to ensure compliance with any new rules and regulations contemplated here.

For assistance or questions concerning this legal insight, please contact the authors or any member of the Steptoe & Johnson Energy Team.

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