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COVID-19 PHMSA Response

PHMSA Issues COVID-19 Notice and Guidance for Pipeline Operators

In response to the COVID-19 health crisis and national emergency in our country, PHMSA issued two important guidance statements for pipeline operators.

The guidance statements were issued to address continued efforts to support pipeline safety at the federal and state levels:

  • PHMSA issued a Notice of Stay of Enforcement and Notice of Enforcement Discretion for operators that may be potentially unable to comply with federal safety requirements because of COVID-19. (effective March 20, 2020)
  • PHMSA issued a Guidance to State Partners Regarding COVID-19 to work with officials at the state level to prioritize safety-sensitive inspections and investigations for intrastate operators. (effective March 19, 2020)

Both guidance statements address a central issue facing pipeline operators: resource constraints attempting to maintain safe pipeline operators during a national emergency.

Key Points: Notice of Stay of Enforcement and Notice of Enforcement Discretion

– PHMSA acknowledged that many operators have sought temporary relief as they develop strategies and alternatives to maintain normal operations and protect the health and safety of personnel and the public.

Because of actions that may be required by pipeline operators during the emergency, PHMSA is advising affected operators that it “does not intend to take any enforcement action with regard to OQ (Operator Qualification) and CRM (Control Room Management) requirements.” PHMSA will also consider exercising its enforcement discretion with regard to drug testing requirements.

However, PHMSA is requesting that operators that are unable to comply with OQ, CRM, and drug testing requirements “should maintain documentation explaining what specific requirements are not being met, how the non-compliance is related to COVID-19, and what alternative measures are being taken to ensure safety.”

– Operators that determine they cannot comply with the regulations should immediately contact the PHMSA Office of Pipeline Safety at Pipeline-COVID-19-notices@dot.gov to explain why you are unable to meet compliance requirements.

– It’s worth noting that the PHMSA notice only applies to operators faced with limited resources caused by the emergency. The notice does not exclude operators from complying with any other applicable pipeline safety regulations and “acting reasonably to use trained, non-impaired workers to perform operations, maintenance, and control-room tasks.”

The goal is to ensure that pipeline operators do not use untrained personnel to fill slots in the control room if certain controllers are unavailable during the COVID-19 crisis. If certain personnel do not meet the roles & responsibilities requirements for the control room, they should not be placed into service.

PHMSA advised that operators “remain fully responsible for the safe operation of their systems and maintaining the capability to detect and respond to critical pipeline safety issues and adequately respond to pipeline emergencies.”

Key Points: Guidance to State Partners During COVID-19

– PHMSA issued guidance to their state partners that they will continue to work together to address any “emergent need for special permits or state waivers.”

This may also include stays of enforcement, rescheduling or delaying inspections, or other similar measures granted by state authorities to pipeline operators to support operators during the COVID-19 health crisis.

– PHMSA issued recommendations for their state partners to identify critical work — such as time-sensitive inspections and investigations — to continue as scheduled.

– For intrastate operators regulated by state authorities that determine that they cannot comply with regulations during COVID-19, they should immediately contact their State Program Manager.

– If operators have instituted no-travel or limited-travel policies for their personnel, PHMSA encourages states to determine whether to expedite the work, conduct it remotely, or temporarily postpone the work.

The goal is to comply with federal mandates, state declarations, and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) to minimize COVID-19 exposure to individuals. Therefore, PHMSA has identified the following actions for their state programs:

Conduct state program evaluations remotely, if possible.
Reschedule field observations of state inspections when circumstances permit.
Other programs such as training, grant reviews, and damage prevention reviews will be conducted remotely.

– Overall, PHMSA recognizes that some intrastate operators face limited resources during the COVID-19 response. To that end, PHMSA is encouraging state pipeline safety partners to work with operators to continue effectively supporting pipeline safety.

Pipeline Operator Support During COVID-19 Health Crisis

The pipeline industry will need to come together during this time of unprecedented change and emergency response.

Because each operation is uniquely affected by COVID-19, operators need to take appropriate steps to ensure they continue to operate safely. And, in the event of required deviation from federal and state pipeline regulations for control room management, operators need to create accurate records that capture the deviation and the steps taken to mitigate risk.

EnerSys Corporation is available to support pipeline operators affected by COVID-19 by providing control room support. We will provide staff augmentation services to help ensure that your control room remains operational during the emergency crisis and support recordkeeping to prepare a future audit.

Contact us today to discuss the specific needs of your operation. We are available to provide help during this challenging time for the industry.

Russel Treat

Russel Treat is an industry leader, software entrepreneur, podcaster, and trusted subject matter expert specializing in oil and gas pipeline operations, custody transfer measurement, leak detection, and automation. Russel’s extensive knowledge of pipeline and control room operations gained over 30 years of projects led to the creation of a complete software suite known as POEMS ™ (Pipeline Operations Excellence Management System) delivered through EnerSys Corporation.

As CEO of EnerSys, Russel is committed to delivering the highest value to pipeline operators by addressing their greatest needs and concerns, especially operational efficiency, safety and government regulation.