On August 24, 2023, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) aimed at enhancing safety requirements for gas distribution pipelines. The changes contained therein are primarily focused on distribution pipeline integrity management plans, emergency response plans, and distribution facility designs. The NPRM implements provisions of the Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act and a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendation aimed at preventing “catastrophic incidents resulting from overpressurization of low-pressure gas distribution systems.”
Key components of the NPRM include (i) improvements to construction procedures aimed at reducing the risk of over-pressurization incidents; (ii) updates to distribution integrity management programs (DIMP) to include and prepare for over-pressurization incidents; (iii) requirements for new regulator stations designed to include secondary pressure relief valves and remote gas monitoring, in order to better prepare gas distribution systems to avoid over-pressurizations and limit damage during such incidents; (iv) and improvements to emergency response plans, including requirements for operators to contact local emergency responders and keep customers and the public informed of what to do in the event of an emergency.
While PHMSA’s primary goal in promulgating the NPRM is reducing safety risks, PHMSA also states the NPRM “builds on other national and international actions advanced by Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration to reduce methane emissions.” In total, PHMSA Deputy Administrator Tristan Brown hopes the NPRM “will protect communities and the environment, as well as lower energy costs for consumers.”
As the regulatory rulemaking process moves forward, it will be important for distribution pipeline operators and other stakeholders to continue to monitor this proposal. For those interested in taking an active role in the rulemaking, comments are due 60 days from the date the notice is published in the Federal Register.
For assistance or questions concerning this legal insight, please contact the authors or any member of the Steptoe & Johnson Energy Team.