2021 PHMSA Enforcement Actions: Lessons Learned for Control Room Management

2021 PHMSA Enforcement Actions for Control Room Management

Each year, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) publishes a summary of enforcement actions taken against pipeline operators whose assets are subject to federal jurisdiction.

The PHMSA Enforcement Actions report represents a range of enforcement case types that PHMSA brings against pipeline owners and operators. The types of cases include Corrective Action Orders, Notice of Probable Violations, Notice of Amendments, Warning Letters, and Notices of Proposed Safety Orders.

Within each of these enforcement actions are categories of findings and violations. At EnerSys, we focus on issues related to Control Room Management, namely findings and violations related to the Control Room Management Rule (49 CFR ​​192.631 for the transport of natural gas and 195.446 for the transport of hazardous liquids).

We focus on the control room so that we can help our clients stay ahead of the latest PHMSA requirements, which supports your efforts to satisfy each PHMSA inquiry.

In our research of the 2021 Enforcement Actions, we identified at least 163 individual findings and violations pertaining to Control Room Management. The issues spanned a wide range of sections in the CRM Rule.

– In this article, we will unpack our findings, share lessons learned, and offer solutions to help operators drive toward zero findings. In future articles this year, we will take a deep dive into each specific section of the CRM Rule that caused issues for operators and present solutions.

Overall Summary of 2021 PHMSA Enforcement Actions

Throughout 2021, PHMSA initiated 236 total cases against pipeline operators spanning the entirety of pipeline operations. This was up 22 percent compared to 194 total cases in 2020.

The total for 2021 was the most over the past five years, topping 229 total cases initiated in 2017.

In 2021, each of the following PHMSA enforcement case types surpassed the corresponding figure from 2020:

  • 5 Corrective Action Order Cases
  • 67 Notice of Probable Violation Cases
  • 76 Notice of Amendment Cases
  • 85 Warning Letter Cases
  • 3 Notice of Proposed Safety Order Cases

Why the dramatic increase in PHMSA enforcement actions from one year to the next? The central lesson to be learned is that PHMSA is going deeper into their inspections and audits, inspectors are asking more probing questions about your policies and procedures, and PHMSA is looking more intently at the implementation of plans — not just whether you have plans.

Our findings related to Control Room Management capture this trend. Let’s drill down into the CRM Rule findings and violations.

Summary of Control Room Management Findings and Violations

Digging into the PHMSA Enforcement Actions, we found a diverse range of Control Room Management findings and violations. In our research, we identified issues from these sections of the CRM Rule:

  • A – General Requirements: 25 issues
  • B – Roles and Responsibilities: 14 issues
  • C – Adequate Information: 22 issues
  • D – Fatigue Mitigation: 11 issues
  • E – Alarm Management: 37 issues
  • F – Change Management: 3 issues
  • G – Operating Experience: 3 issues
  • H – Training: 38 issues
  • I – Compliance Validation: 0 issues
  • J – Compliance and Deviations: 10 issues

Some findings were minor that resulted in Warning Letters or Notices of Probable Violation sent to pipeline operators. However, other violations resulted in Proposed Compliance Orders or Proposed Civil Penalties. Of the 163 individual CRM Rule findings and violations, these break down as follows:

  • 57 issues identified in Warning Letters
  • 89 issues identified in Notices of Amendments
  • 9 issues identified in Proposed Compliance Orders
  • 8 issues identified in Proposed Civil Penalty Orders

As you can see, the majority of issues are nominal in nature (Warning Letters and Notices of Amendments), capturing that PHMSA is looking more intently at policy, procedure, and implementation.

As part of the ongoing Control Room Management inspection initiative, PHMSA inspectors are taking deep dives to ensure that you are doing what you say you are going to do in your Control Room Management Plan. This effort resulted in a significant uptick in findings.

This included some findings that were serious in nature, which resulted in PHMSA issuing Proposed Compliance Orders and Civil Penalties to some operators.

Examples of CRM Rule Violations

– One serious finding included a proposed preliminary civil penalty of $58,200 for multiple instances of non-compliance. The operator was found to have violated Section E (Alarm Management), Section J (Compliance and Deviation), and Section A (General Requirements).

– Another operator was found to have violated multiple aspects of the Pipeline Safety Regulations (49 CFR) that covered the entirety of pipeline operations. This resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars of proposed fines.

The specific violations related to the CRM Rule totaled up to $113,300. This operator allegedly violated Section C – Adequate Information ($58,400 proposed fine) and Section E – Alarm Management ($54,900 proposed fine).

– A third operator was assessed a proposed civil penalty of $37,100 for a serious violation of Section E (Alarm Management). The operator allegedly failed to identify at least once each calendar month the points affecting safety for the specific activity in their pipeline operation.

– There are many other examples of CRM Rule findings and violations that did not result in proposed penalties or fines. However, the increased number of issues points to the need for operators to ensure CRM Rule compliance and audit readiness.

Solutions to Ensure CRM Rule Compliance and Audit Readiness

Our focus at EnerSys is helping operators arrive at the position of Natural Compliance. This way, you are automatically working in compliance with the CRM Rule and you are always prepared to satisfy a PHMSA audit or inspection of the control room.

To achieve Natural Compliance, your operation needs to implement a program management system, a process management system, and task execution systems to support the work to be done.

  • Program Management System: capture your policies and procedures in a written Control Room Management Plan (CRMP), and ensure that each policy and procedure aligns with the requirements of the CRM Rule. Establish your foundation.
  • Process Management System: ensure that you implement the CRMP and follow through on your plan. This way, you are doing what you said you were going to do.
  • Task Management Systems: perform the work in accordance with the CRMP and capture the activity through appropriate recordkeeping. Your task systems should be set up to track activity and produce records that satisfy CRM Rule requirements. EnerSys can help through the use of our Control Room Management software tools (CRM Suite).

As part of our review, we will examine the current state of your policies, procedures, and implementation to determine whether you are on the right path to Natural Compliance. We’ll work to close gaps and provide recommendations on how to bring your control room into compliance with PHMSA requirements. Through our support, we can help you pass the audit.

– Let’s get started with a consultation about your control room challenges. Call us at 281-598-7100 to speak with EnerSys General Manager Ross Adams or VP Business Development Dale Schafer. You can also contact us via email at sales@enersyscorp.com or complete our website contact form to get started.

We look forward to supporting your control room as you seek to respond to the findings of the 2021 PHMSA Enforcement Actions pertaining to Control Room Management.