NTSB Pipeline Accident Brief: Natural Gas Explosion at Minnesota Educational Facility

Full Pipeline Accident Brief Report: Natural Gas Explosion at Educational Facility Minneapolis, Minnesota August 2, 2017

Issued by National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on December 2, 2019

Executive Summary
​On August 2, 2017, at 10:22 a.m., local time, a building on the north campus of the Minnehaha Academy, a private school in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was destroyed by a natural gas explosion. Figure 1 shows an aerial view of the north campus prior to the accident, with a yellow arrow pointing toward the explosion site. Figure 2 is a photograph of the accident site taken after the building explosion, with emergency responders and gas company personnel on scene. At the time of the explosion, two workers were installing piping to support the relocation of gas meters from the basement of the building to the outside. Two new meters mounted on an exterior wall were ready for the piping to be connected. While workers were removing the existing piping, a full-flow natural gas line at pressure was opened. The workers were unable to control the release of the gas; thus, they evacuated the building and warned others to evacuate. The explosion occurred during their evacuation. Two individuals were killed, and nine others were injured.

Probable Cause​
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the natural gas explosion at the Minnehaha Academy occurred when a pipefitting crew disassembled piping upstream of a gas service meter. Contributing to the accident was the lack of detailed documentation that clearly established the scope of work to be performed.


Overpressurized Gas Distribution System Caused Explosions, Fires: Columbia Gas of Massachusetts

National Transportation Safety Board News Release September 24, 2019

The National Transportation Safety Board determined Tuesday that Columbia Gas of Massachusetts’ deficiencies in management and oversight led to overpressurization of a natural gas distribution system which resulted in a series of fires and explosions in Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts.

The Sept. 13, 2018, accident occurred after high-pressure natural gas was released into a low-pressure gas distribution system in the northeast region of the Merrimack Valley. One person was killed and 22 people, including three firefighters, were transported to area hospitals. The system over-pressure damaged 131 structures, including five homes that were destroyed.Prior to the overpressurization event a Columbia Gas-contracted work crew, which included a Columbia Gas inspector, was performing a Columbia Gas-designed and approved pipe-replacement project at an intersection. The contracted crew was working on a tie-in project that bypassed the existing cast-iron line and directed gas pressure to a new plastic line. The bypassed cast-iron line was still connected to the primary regulator control lines, providing input to the gas pressure regulator used to control system pressure. Once the contractor crews disconnected the cast-iron line, the section containing the control lines began losing pressure. Since the gas regulators did not sense system pressure, they responded by opening fully, allowing high-pressure gas to enter the low-pressure system.

“Catastrophic tragedies like this should never happen,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “When tackling major repair work that has the potential to impact a community, all precautions and planning should be considered and coordinated before, during and after the work has been done.”   

In the investigation discussed Tuesday, the NTSB found Columbia Gas of Massachusetts should have first relocated the control lines to the newly installed plastic main line after the existing cast iron main line was replaced. The NTSB noted, as part of its probable cause, that a low-pressure natural gas distribution system designed and operated without adequate overpressure protection contributed to the accident.As result a of the investigation, the NTSB issued five new safety recommendations with two issued to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, one to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety, and one to NiSource, Inc.  Thirty-one states each received one safety recommendation.  These recommendations address safety issues including adequacy of natural gas regulations, project documentation, project management, risk assessment, emergency response and safety management systems.

The urgent safety recommendations issued earlier in the investigation are available at https://go.usa.gov/xVx73.

An abstract of the final report, which includes the findings, probable cause, and all safety recommendations, is available at https://go.usa.gov/xVdTY.

Links to other publicly released information about this investigation are available at https://go.usa.gov/xVpR5.

Contact: NTSB Media Relations
490 L’Enfant Plaza, SW
Washington, DC 20594
Keith Holloway
(202) 314-6100


Pipeline Rules Adopted Years After Deadly Explosion, Spills

Matthew Brown, Associated Press Updated 1:06 pm PDT, Tuesday, October 1, 2019

San Bruno, California.

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. transportation officials on Tuesday adopted long-delayed measures that are meant to prevent pipeline spills and deadly gas explosions but don’t address recommended steps to lessen accidents once they occur.

The new rules from the Department of Transportation apply to more than 500,000 miles of pipelines that carry natural gas, oil and other hazardous materials throughout the U.S.

In the works for almost a decade, the rules came in response to a massive gas explosion in San Bruno, California, that killed eight people in 2010, and large oil spills into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010 and the Yellowstone River in Montana in 2011 and 2015.

The rules require companies to more closely inspect underground pipelines, including in rural areas and after catastrophic weather events. They also require better record-keeping so companies can monitor lines in some cases installed decades ago.

Left unaddressed were longstanding recommendations by safety officials to install valves that automatically shut down pipelines following accidents. Also absent were requirements for more advanced systems to detect pipeline ruptures.

Those issues were being addressed through a separate, ongoing rule-making process.

Industry groups and safety advocates backed the adopted changes. In February, they joined to prod the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to finalize the rule for gas transmission lines after it had been repeatedly delayed.

“It doesn’t seem to us like any of those rules should have taken 10 years to pass … Everybody thinks these are common-sense, small regulations,” said Carl Weimer with the Pipeline Safety Trust, a Bellingham, Washington-based group that formed after a 1999 gasoline pipeline break and explosion killed a teenager and two 10-year-old boys.

While the rules were pending, pipeline companies moved on their own to make safety improvements such as developing guidelines for identifying and repairing cracked lines and responding to pipeline emergencies, according to the Association of Oil Pipelines.

Federal regulators are expected to soon release their proposals for pipeline shut-off valves and rupture detection equipment. A separate proposal due sometime next year would extend safety regulations to so-called gathering pipelines that transport natural gas from drilling locations.

Congress also is considering changes to the government’s pipeline safety rules through legislation that would re-authorize the program for the next four years.

Workshop Regarding the Creation of the FERC Office of Public Participation: Friday, Apr 16, 2021 (9:00 AM – 5:00 PM)

Docket No. AD21-9-000
This Commissioner-led workshop will be webcast.


The workshop will provide interested parties with the opportunity to provide input to the Commission on the creation of the Office of Public Participation. The Commission intends to establish and operate the Office of Public Participation to “coordinate assistance to the public with respect to authorities exercised by the Commission,” including assistance to those seeking to intervene in Commission proceedings, pursuant to section 319 of the Federal Power Act (FPA). 16 U.S.C. § 825q–1. Congress directed the Commission to provide, by June 25, 2021, to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress a report on the Commission’s progress towards establishing the Office of Public Participation, including an organizational structure and budget for the office, beginning in fiscal year 2022.

The Commission plans to hear input on the following considerations in forming the Office of Public Participation, including:

  1. the office’s function and scope as authorized by section 319 of the FPA;
  2. the office’s organizational structure and approach, including the use of equity assessment tools;
  3. participation by tribes, environmental justice communities, and other affected individuals and communities, including those who have not historically participated before the Commission; and
  4. intervenor compensation.

The Commission seeks nominations for stakeholder panelists to provide input about each of these areas of consideration at the workshop by March 10, 2020. Each nomination should indicate name, contact information, organizational affiliation, what issue area the proposed panelist would speak on, and suggested workshop topics to OPPWorkshopNominations@ferc.gov.

Supplemental notices will be issued prior to the workshop with further details regarding the agenda, panelists, meeting registration information, and electronic log-in information. The workshop will be open for the public to attend, and there is no fee for attendance.

For questions about the workshop, please contact Stacey Steep, Office of General Counsel, (202) 502-8148, OPPWorkshop@ferc.gov

PHMSA Advisories Target Distribution Pipeline Meters and Overpressure Protection

Flower Branch apartment complex in Silver Spring, Maryland, site of a deadly 2016 gas explosion. Photo: Jabin Botsford/Washington Post

October 7, 2020

By Catherine D. LittleAnnie M. Cook & Viktoriia De Las Casas in PIPELAWS.com

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has issued two Advisory Bulletins directed to natural gas distribution pipeline owners and operators. PHMSA released the advisories in response to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendations arising out of two high-profile distribution pipeline incidents in Silver Spring, Maryland and Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts. The first advisory focuses on indoor meters and regulators to remind operators of the relevant regulatory requirements and risks. The second advisory covers low-pressure distribution systems, emphasizing the possibility of failures due to overpressurization.

While advisory guidance does not create legal requirements, it does signal potential areas of renewed enforcement focus. Both advisories stress the importance of distribution integrity management programs (DIMP), including in particular effective leak detection, threat identification, risk reduction, and periodic evaluation. More specifics regarding each advisory are provided below.

Inside Meters and Regulators Advisory

By way of background, following a 2016 incident in Silver Spring, Maryland that caused an explosion and partial collapse of an apartment building, the NTSB investigation identified the probable cause as the failure of an indoor mercury service regulator with an unconnected vent line. The fact that the mercury service regulator was located in a space where leak detection by odor was not readily available contributed to the incident.

In response to the incident and the NTSB’s findings and recommendations, PHMSA’s advisory reminds distribution operators of the consequences of failures of inside meters and regulators and of the regulations applicable to these devices. Among others, these include requirements regarding installation in readily accessible locations and the additional requirement for indoor devices to be located as near to the point of service line entrance “as practical.” See 49 C.F.R. § 192.353; see also 49 C.F.R. §§ 192.355 (ventilation and venting); 192.357(d) (regulators must be vented to the atmosphere).

The advisory also reminds owners and operators of the requirement to conduct leakage and atmospheric corrosion surveys of their systems, which should also encompass indoor meters and service regulators (49 C.F.R. §§ 192.481 (corrosion); 192.723 (leak surveys)). PHMSA notes that if access to indoor regulators is an issue, operators should work with their customers to provide access for needed checks and surveys. In addition, operators should continue assessing risks to their systems and addressing those risks in accordance with their distribution integrity management programs (DIMP), which includes knowing the location of all meters and regulators, evaluating the risk of failure or damage to these devices, and addressing the risks. Specifically, PHMSA recommends that distribution operators review the points-of-failure identified in the NTSB accident investigation report, assess their systems in light of these failures, and adjust their DIMP if needed.

Overpressure Protection on Low-Pressure Natural Gas Distribution Systems Advisory

PHMSA issued its second advisory in response to the NTSB recommendations arising out of the September 13, 2018, natural gas pipeline incident in Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts. The NTSB identified the probable cause of the accident as weak engineering management and specifically the operator’s failure to relocate regulator sensing lines when conducting main replacement on the system. As a contributing cause, NTSB identified a lack of adequate overpressure protection on the low-pressure system.

In its advisory, PHMSA reminds operators of low-pressure systems to thoroughly review their current DIMP for the threat of overpressurization and to make necessary changes. In particular, PHMSA recommends that operators develop written procedures for all activities involving new construction or pipe replacement projects for their low-distribution systems to account for the additional precautions needed to protect them from overpressurization. The advisory offers a list of topics to be covered in such procedures. Further, PHMSA recommends that while identifying threats and ranking risks, operators consider the single point of failure that could lead to an overpressurization as a high-risk threat, given the Merrimack Valley incident. If operators do not consider the threat of overpressurization as an existing threat in their DIMP programs, PHMSA suggests they provide a written justification. PHMSA also urges operators to use a failure modes and effectiveness analysis (FMEA) model or an equivalent method when performing risk analysis. Lastly, PHMSA reminds operators to implement measures designed to reduce the risk of overpressure events and provides several means for doing that.

If you have any questions regarding these advisories, please contact Catherine Little and Annie Cook at Troutman Pepper.

U.S. Government Accountability Office Issues Report on LNG Exports

GAO Report on Natural Gas Exports: Updated Guidance and Regulations Could Improve Facility Permitting Processes

In 2019, about 39% of U.S. natural gas exports went through export facilities—in which the gas is liquefied and loaded onto ships for transport. Multiple federal agencies regulate export facility design. Federal guidance says that agencies should review regulations every 3-5 years and, if needed, adopt current technical standards for safety and environmental protection.

But some regulations haven’t been updated. For example, one agency requires export facilities to comply with a 1994 fire extinguisher standard that includes some obsolete extinguisher types. We recommended that agencies establish a process to regularly update regulations.

What GAO Found

Federal agencies have incorporated most but not all key collaboration practices in the permitting processes for export facilities for liquefied natural gas (LNG). GAO has identified seven key practices that can help sustain collaboration among federal agencies, including reviewing and updating written guidance and agreements. The Maritime Administration (MARAD) and the U.S. Coast Guard (Coast Guard), which jointly lead the permitting process for LNG export facilities in federal waters, have incorporated all seven key practices. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which leads the permitting process for LNG export facilities located on land or in state waters (facilities in both places are referred to as onshore facilities), has incorporated six of the key practices. However, FERC does not regularly review and update its interagency agreements, which outline agencies’ roles and responsibilities in the onshore permitting process, because it does not have a process to do so. Establishing a process to regularly review and update FERC’s agreements with other agencies would help FERC ensure that, in the near term, other agencies clearly understand and consistently implement the permitting process and, for the longer term, the agreements address policy changes that may affect the process.

FERC’s, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA), and the Coast Guard’s regulations for permitting LNG export facilities do not incorporate all current technical standards. For example, FERC’s regulations cite an outdated 1984 earthquake standard, PHMSA’s regulations cite outdated fire safety standards from 2001, and the Coast Guard’s regulations cite an outdated 1994 standard for fire extinguishers. Guidance from the Office of Management and Budget states that agencies should conduct a standards-specific review of regulations that cite technical standards every 3 to 5 years and update the regulations with updated standards, if necessary. However, FERC, PHMSA, and the Coast Guard have not recently conducted such a review and FERC and PHMSA do not have processes in place to regularly do so. The Coast Guard has a process for conducting such reviews but it does not specify how frequently the reviews should occur. Without processes to conduct a standards-specific review of regulations every 3 to 5 years, the agencies cannot be assured that the regulations remain effective at ensuring safety.

See the full GAO report in our Library of Technical Reports & Research Papers.

NEWS ALERT: PHMSA Announces Gas Pipeline Regulatory Reform Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

Thursday, May 28, 2020
Contact: Ben Kochman, DOT/PHMSA

PHMSA is proposing a number of amendments to modernize federal pipeline safety regulations that would reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens consistent with E.O. 13771, 13777, and 13783. PHMSA considered public comments on DOT notices on regulatory reform, petitions for rulemaking, and PHMSA’s own review of existing regulations to identify areas where the agency could provide regulatory relief without adversely impacting public safety or environmental protection. PHMSA has quantified annualized cost savings of $129.4 million per year (7% discount rate), primarily from the provisions regarding farm taps and atmospheric corrosion assessments of distribution service lines. PHMSA looks forward to reviewing comments on the proposal and will closely keep them in mind while determining the final rule. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking has been transmitted to the Federal Register and a publication date will be provided when it is available.

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The mission of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is to protect people and the environment by advancing the safe transportation of energy and other hazardous materials that are essential to our daily lives.  PHMSA develops and enforces regulations for the safe operation of the nation’s 2.8 million-mile pipeline transportation system and the 1.2 million daily shipments of hazardous materials by land, sea, and air.  Please visit http://phmsa.dot.gov or https://twitter.com/PHMSA_DOT for more information.

U.S. Chemical Safety Board Releases New Guidance Document for Boards of Directors and Executives Focused on High Hazard Accident Prevention in the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry

Photo: Kris Krug

Washington, D.C. – May 14, 2020

The CSB has released a new guidance document entitled, “CSB Best Practice Guidance for Corporate Boards of Directors and Executives in the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry for Major Accident Prevention.” The new seven-page document is focused on the importance of the role of boards of directors and executives in ensuring that there are effective safety management systems in place to properly manage risks, with the goal of preventing major accidents and protecting workers, the public, and the environment.

Chairman Dr. Katherine Lemos said, “April 20, 2020, marked 10 years since the catastrophic Macondo/Deepwater Horizon blowout, fire, and explosion. The CSB’s final report determined that a robust process safety program is important to a company’s overall success. Companies operating offshore have the potential for major accidents that threaten the lives of workers and may result in catastrophic environmental damage, as seen in the Macondo/Deepwater Horizon blowout and explosion.”

The guidance document includes the following for boards of directors and executives:

  • Ensure that a robust safety management system is in place that integrates internal safety requirements with regulatory requirements to control major accident hazards and that identifies, prevents, and mitigates identified process safety deficiencies.
  • Promote a strong process safety culture.
  • Ensure that at least one of the company’s directors has the necessary and relevant education, experience, and training to gather, assess, and communicate important process safety-related information.
  • Develop a process safety policy that is periodically reviewed and revised, as necessary, and is an integral part of the company’s culture, values, and performance standards.
  • Establish a board champion for process safety who initiates discussion at all board meetings and leads process safety oversight and other initiatives on behalf of the board.
  • Communicate process safety policies and their importance, as well as the crucial role of workers in risk identification and management.
  • Establish strong Board visibility, including site visits, presentations, and board-level training initiatives, including health and safety training courses, as well as the creation of company-specific programs with an emphasis on process safety.

Guidance for good communication practices is also provided to ensure that shareholders receive critical information to hold management and the Board accountable for a company’s safety performance, including:

  • Annual reports from boards of directors to investors and shareholders should provide sufficient information relating to the company’s process safety performance.
  • Annual reports should include detailed sections on topics, such as risk factors, process safety and operational risks, and environmental and social responsibility.
  • Boards should effectively communicate process safety performance in the form of leading and lagging safety indicator data that provide sufficient information concerning the safety of their operations, major hazards and related safety issues, and areas for improvement.

The document further highlights best practices by the Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS), safety culture policies issued by the Bureau of Safety and Environment Enforcement (BSEE), as well as effective leadership for health and safety issued by international regulators and trade associations. View the full document HERE.

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical incidents. The agency’s board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in safety management systems.

The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Please visit our website, www.CSB.gov.

Natural Gas Infrastructure Threatens Shareholder Value, Contributes to Climate Breakdown

Photo: greentechmedia.com


Media Contact: Stefanie Spear, sspear@asyousow.org, 216-387-1609

BERKELEY, CA—MARCH 4, 2020—Shareholder advocacy group As You Sow and nonpartisan policy think-tank Energy Innovation today released Natural Gas: A Bridge to Climate Breakdown, a report addressing the opportunities presented by the clean energy transition and the risk of overreliance on natural gas for utilities.

As coal’s inevitable decline in U.S. electricity production continues, natural gas, which is largely replacing coal, is a growing source of climate concern. Forming part of utilities’ initial response to demand for lower-carbon energy, natural gas infrastructure build-out continues to rapidly expand across the U.S. Yet despite its reputation as the cleanest burning fossil fuel, natural gas generates considerable climate impacts through direct combustion and methane leaks across the supply chain. New reports continue to find that methane emissions are likely much worse than previously estimated. 

As the window to address climate change narrows, investment in new natural gas infrastructure is increasingly incompatible with a climate-stable future. The natural gas bridge to a carbon-free future must have a clear end in sight. Natural Gas: A Bridge to Climate Breakdown raises critical questions about why utilities continue investing in gas infrastructure, and what is at stake if emissions and costs are locked into place through such investments. 

“As climate change increases risk to investor portfolios, shareholders must scrutinize what role fossil gas can play in the inevitable transition to a clean-energy economy,” said Lila Holzman, energy program manager at As You Sow. “Utilities clinging to business models that rely on fossil fuels are jeopardizing their ability to meet critical climate goals (including their own) and will miss out on opportunities to benefit from new technology advances.” 

This timely report reveals how the proliferation of gas infrastructure contributes to distinct risks that threaten shareholder value. While progress in reducing utility sector greenhouse gas emissions is being made, as seen by the increasing number of utilities setting mid- and long-term decarbonization targets, concerns remain as to what extent gas’ expansion may jeopardize those goals. The report reviews the current policy, economic, and technology landscape and the related opportunities and challenges utilities must navigate in the face of the ongoing clean-energy transition.

“Renewables like wind and solar, complemented by flexible zero-carbon resources like storage and demand response, are already providing the same reliability services and energy as new natural gas plants at lower cost,” stated Mike O’Boyle, director of electricity policy at Energy Innovation. “New gas infrastructure is increasingly likely to become stranded — the natural gas ‘bridge’ must end now if investors want to avoid massive stranded asset cost risk.” 

For the first time this year, shareholder group As You Sow filed related resolutions with large utilities Sempra, Dominion, and Southern Company raising investor concern for stranded gas assets. The resolutions ask these companies to explain how they are preparing for the likely reduction in natural gas demand in the face of accelerated action to confront the climate crisis. 

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As You Sow is a nonprofit organization that promotes environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy, coalition building, and innovative legal strategies. See our resolutions here.

Energy Innovation is a nonpartisan energy and environmental policy firm. We deliver high-quality research and original analysis to policymakers to help them make informed choices on energy policy. We focus on what matters and what works.

API Issues Technical Standards for Only Larger-Sized Rural Gas Gathering Lines

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.

Virus Leads Pipeline Agency to Ease Job Qualification Rules

Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Liaison


By Sylvia Carignan, Bloomberg Environment, March 23, 2020

A federal safety agency is helping hazardous material transporters and pipeline operators prepare for the spread of Covid-19 by easing staff training and qualifications requirements.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a stay on enforcement March 20, applicable only to requirements for pipeline operator employee qualifications and training. The agency issued a second stay on enforcement Monday on training requirements for hazardous material carriers.

The pipeline industry is preparing to operate with a workforce potentially reduced by illness or quarantines, said Bryn Karaus, who focuses on pipeline regulation in her position of counsel for Van Ness Feldman LLP in Washington.

Qualified employees are required to conduct specific tasks, like inspecting pipelines for corrosion or leaks. During the pandemic, if training isn’t available, pipeline operators may have to substitute other employees, Karaus said.

The agency consulted Karaus, among others, on the pipeline operator memo issued March 20.

The March 20 stay on pipeline operations enforcement eases requirements for:

  • The minimum qualifications for employees who work on pipeline safety and operations;
  • The maximum number of hours control room employees, who monitor remote pipeline operations, are permitted to work; and
  • Training for control room employees.

The agency is also refraining from taking enforcement action against hazardous material carriers who are unable to provide recurring training as required by federal regulations, it announced Monday.

The stay on enforcement for hazardous material transporters comes “in response to unprecedented changes in business practices” related to the coronavirus. PHMSA’s policy is intended to minimize disruption in the supply chain, the Monday notice said.

Limited Resources

The March 20 stay eases requirements for pipeline operators’ employees to submit to random drug testing throughout the calendar year. During the pandemic, labs that process those tests may be overwhelmed by Covid-19 tests instead, Karaus said.

The Department of Transportation, which oversees PHMSA, issued guidance for regulated companies and its own staff Monday regarding drug testing. Federal employees may be able to get testing done at a later date, according to the guidance.

The March 20 stay doesn’t relieve pipeline operators of the responsibility to comply with other safety regulations. Operators must continue to use “trained, non-impaired workers” to maintain pipelines and carry out control room tasks, the agency’s memo said.

Pipeline operators who can’t comply with regulations because of the pandemic must explain their circumstances to the agency and describe the alternate safety precautions being taken.

Lynda Farrell, founder of the Pipeline Safety Coalition, was concerned that the decision to stay enforcement on pipeline regulations that are too lax could create a risk to public safety. The coalition describes its mission as working “with local residents, legislators, educators, scientists and engineers, and other non-government organizations on the various safety aspects of the fossil fuel pipeline system.”

“In this short term, I personally find it hard to understand relaxing drug testing and control room regulations that could prevent a potential incident in an already stretched state of emergency,” she said.

Karaus said the agency may take additional measures to adjust to pipeline operators’ needs during the pandemic.

“It will be an evolving, ongoing, developing issue,” she said.

The stay on pipeline operator training enforcement will remain in effect until further notice, according to the agency. The stay on hazardous material training enforcement will be in effect for 90 days.(Updates throughout with new information about hazardous materials safety.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Sylvia Carignan in Washington at scarignan@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergenvironment.com

Implementing the Recently Published Gas Transmission and Hazardous Liquid Final Rules- Documents Now Available

On February 26 & 27, 2020 PHMSA held public meetings for Pipeline Safety officials to discuss with pipeline safety stakeholders the implementation of the gas transmission and the hazardous liquid pipeline final rules published in the Federal Register on October 1, 2019. PHMSA made available for comment draft frequently asked questions (FAQs) and answers for both final rules that will be used to facilitate the implementation of the final rules. PHMSA also discussed the benefits of pipeline operators developing an effective safety culture, including safety management systems.

The meeting was web cast, and the documents presented are now available on the meeting website and posted on the E-Gov website: http://www.regulations.gov under docket number PHMSA-2019-0225.

Hazardous Liquid Rule Public Meeting Link:

Safety Management System/Safety Culture Workshop Link:

Gas Rule Public Meeting Link:

On this day in 1973: Staten Island liquefied natural gas explosion kills 40 workers

Feb 10, 2020 By Steve Zaffarano | zaffarano@siadvance.com