Photo: Camp Viejo gas plant and gathering system/StakeholderMidstream.com
Mike Soraghan, E&E News reporter
Published: Thursday, April 2, 2020
An oil and gas industry group has issued new guidelines for large gathering lines, which carry natural gas from well sites to processing facilities.
But the new industry standard excludes gathering lines less than 12 inches in diameter, disappointing pipeline safety advocates.
The American Petroleum Institute says its guidelines will bring clarity to safe operation of larger-diameter lines.
“These standards will enhance safety and operational efficiency, while assisting industry in meeting state and federal rules for the safe operation of natural gas gathering pipelines,” Global Industry Services Senior Vice President Debra Phillips said in a statement last week when the rules were announced.
Another standard announced last week, called “Recommended Practice (RP) 80,” was intended to simplify the industry definition of gathering lines.
The guidelines would cover an estimated 40,000 miles of rural pipelines 12 inches and wider. Federal data indicates there is another 350,000 miles of smaller gathering lines, which won’t be covered.
There are about 40,000 miles of gathering lines 12 inches and wider, according to federal data. There are about 350,000 miles of gathering lines smaller than that.
“We would say this is good for as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go anywhere near far enough,” said Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust.
Weimer was part of the group that wrote and approved the guidelines, known as RP 1182. He voted against the approval.
API and other industry groups have opposed regulating smaller lines, although they support gathering more information on them.
The requirements for pipelines 12 inches and larger include meeting design and construction standards, marking the lines aboveground, leak detection, corrosion control, and setting maximum pressures.
They also include alerting people who live near the lines and developing emergency response plans.
Requirements for lines between 12 and 16 inches would be less stringent if there are no homes within the blast radius of the lines, known as a “potential-impact radius.”
Gathering lines are commonly small pipelines that carry oil and gas from wells to processing sites. But the industry has been building large, high-pressure gas pipelines that legally qualify as gathering lines.
Gathering lines are largely unregulated in rural areas. So in most rural areas, even very large, high-pressure lines are not regulated if they’re considered gathering lines.
But Texas, which accounts for the lion’s share of such lines, adopted rules last year requiring companies to take “appropriate” action to fix safety hazards.
Federal pipeline regulators at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration are also weighing gathering rules and are hoping to have a final rule in July. Safety advocates are pressing, against industry opposition, for regulations covering lines as narrow as 8 inches (Energywire, Nov. 25, 2019).
They note that even relatively small gathering lines can be dangerous. In a two-week period in the summer of 2018, there were three fatal gathering line accidents in Texas’ Permian Basin. One explosion killed a 3-year-old girl and left members of her family badly burned (Energywire, March 4, 2019).
The API standards will not serve as regulations. But standards are widely used in industry and are sometimes incorporated into government regulations and contracts. The previous version of the gathering line definition standard announced last week is incorporated into federal regulations.
Development of the API gathering line standard has been contentious. State regulators withdrew from discussions in June 2017, saying the process was overly dominated by industry. Pipeline company representatives split on issues such as whether they should have to determine the width of the blast zone around their lines. The month after regulators dropped out, a proposed set of standards was voted down.
API’s standards team regrouped and started over. The measure was endorsed by the drafting committee on a 26-6 vote that closed in November 2019. The group included representatives of Exxon Mobil Corp., Energy Transfer Partners and TC Energy Corp. (formerly TransCanada), all of whom voted “yes.” The Laborers’ International Union of North America representative also voted “yes.”
The “no” votes came from the Pipeline Safety Trust’s Weimer, representatives of EOG Resources Inc., Enterprise Products Partners and three consultants.