Oil and gas product being transported by pipeline, designed to be made safer through the Pipeline Safety Act

Pipeline Safety Act Reauthorized: Implications for Operators in 2021 and Beyond

On December 27, 2020, the PIPES Act of 2020 (Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act of 2020) was signed into law by President Trump after passing through the U.S. Congress.

The Pipeline Safety Act re-authorized pipeline safety programs within PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) to support the safe transport of natural gas and hazardous liquid product across the U.S.

Included in the new legislation are key elements that support long-term initiatives enhancing pipeline safety as the industry continues to drive toward zero incidents.

  • The Act increased funding for PHMSA and established annual funding levels for the 2021, 2022, and 2023 fiscal years.
  • The Act will allow PHMSA to invest in additional pipeline safety research efforts.
  • The Act supports improvements to the safety of natural gas distribution pipelines.
  • The Act strengthens requirements for distribution integrity management programs.
  • The Act mandates the adoption of safety management systems.

“Reauthorizing PHMSA’s pipeline safety program couldn’t come at a more crucial time and will have an immense impact on safety,” said PHMSA Administrator Skip Elliott in a press release issued by PHMSA. “Thanks to Congress’s actions, consumers and communities will benefit from this robust legislation, including a safer pipeline system, greater pipeline capacity, more innovation, and a heightened focus on safety culture among all stakeholders.”

Mr. Elliott made similar comments on the Pipeliners Podcast in May 2020. Mr. Elliott stressed that he believes pipeline safety culture is the key to closing the final gap to reach zero incidents. PHMSA now has the authorization to continue pursuing safety measures that will have a long-term positive effect on pipeline safety across the industry.

The Implications of the Pipeline Safety Act on Pipeline Operators

Babst Calland, a law firm based in Washington, D.C. that focuses on pipeline safety and hazardous materials transportation matters, issued a helpful summary of what the Pipeline Safety Act means for pipeline operators.

The Act will require PHMSA to pursue certain rulemakings and take specific actions that correlate to optimizing pipeline safety. According to a briefing released by Babst Calland, the Act requires PHMSA to:

  • Issue new rules for gas pipeline leak detection and repair programs and idle pipelines.
  • Update the operations and maintenance standards for certain large-scale LNG facilities.
  • Finalize outstanding rulemakings for gas gathering lines, class location changes, and definitions of sensitive areas.

The Act also includes the following elements related to safety inspections and industry-wide safety measures:

  • Establishes additional due process protections for PHMSA enforcement actions.
  • Obligates PHMSA to consider an operator’s self-report in assessing a civil penalty.
  • Authorizes the implementation of a new pipeline safety testing program.

Over time, we expect to see PHMSA propose new or revised rulemakings driving toward pipeline safety. We will continue to monitor and report back any notices of proposed rulemakings that directly impact pipeline operators.

The main takeaway for operators at this juncture is that pipeline safety remains the primary focus of government agencies as it relates to the transport of product by pipeline. This was made clear through the re-authorization of the Pipeline Safety Act and the long-term financial commitment to PHMSA as the industry’s federal regulatory oversight agency.

– If your operation is facing roadblocks on your journey to supporting zero incidents, then we recommend reading this article focusing on the importance of culture when implementing a pipeline safety management program in your operation.

– Have questions about the Pipeline Safety Act affecting your operation? Give us a call today at 281-598-7100 or send us an email at sales@enersyscorp.com to discuss further.