Federal Excavation Requirements Imminent

A final rule meant to limit pipeline damage from excavation should be made final sometime later this summer. Two advisory committees voted their approval and authorized changes to the proposed rule the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued in April 2012. Many of the changes the advisory committee green lighted appeared designed to toughen requirements on excavators.

The final rule stems from a provision in The Pipeline Inspection, Protection, Enforcement and Safety (PIPES) Act of 2006. That provision essentially came about because of concerns by transmission companies that excavators were causing unnecessary, and in some instances, catastrophic pipeline accidents by digging in areas without first determining whether pipelines are present. The PIPES Act told the PHMSA to define minimum excavation damage program standards for states. If a state fails to adopt those standards and enforce them, then PHMSA will be able to seek fines from excavators who ignore a new federal standard on excavation damage, which the final rule establishes. The minimum state and new federal standard will be very similar.

Terry Boss, senior vice president at INGAA, says, “From an overall viewpoint, INGAA was happy with the committees’ recommendations.” But he notes it is still unclear how the PHMSA staff will translate those recommendations into regulatory language.

The key element in the final rule will be criteria the PHMSA will use to determine if each state’s excavation damage prevention law meets federal standards. Almost all the criteria apply to what state laws require of excavators. INGAA had three main problems with the criteria proposed in April 2012. It appears that the amendments approved by the advisory committees instruct the PHMSA to modify the criteria in ways demanded by the group.

For example, one of the proposed criteria would have required states to demand that when a pipeline is damaged by an excavation activity, the excavator report the damage to the pipeline operator at the earliest practicable moment after the damage occurs. When damage caused by an excavation activity causes a release, the excavator would be required to contact 911.The INGAA argued that there needed to be an additional state requirement: that excavators stop work, whether there is a release or not, until the pipeline determines it is safe for work to resume.

One of the amendments the committees adopted appears to give the INGAA about 80 percent of what it sought. The provision directs the PHMSA to add a “stop work” requirement for state laws which says excavators must stop work until “the pipeline has had an opportunity to assess the damage.” It doesn’t say the excavator must wait until the pipeline approves resumption of digging.

Other criteria in the April proposed rule would have required excavators to use an available One-Call system prior “to commencing excavation activity where an underground gas or hazardous liquid pipeline may be present.” The INGAA argued that this would allow excavators to claim “ignorance” for not calling a One-Call system based on the fact that they didn’t know a pipeline was buried in the area. The advisory committees agreed with that concern and ordered the PHMSA to eliminate the possibility of a claim of ignorance when it publishes the final rule.

The advisory committees also approved a new criterion which requires state laws to cover individuals digging on their own property. That addition was sought by the INGAA and also the National Association of Pipeline Safety Representatives (NAPSR).

One of the industry’s big concerns was not addressed by the advisory committees — One Call exemptions states grant to government and private parties. The criterion in the April proposed rule was: “Does the state limit exemptions for excavators from its excavation damage prevention law? A state must provide to PHMSA a written justification for any exemptions for
excavators from state damage prevention requirements. PHMSA will make the written justifications available to the public.”

The advisory committees did not authorize changes to that language. Hans Mertens, administrative manager at NAPSR, says exemption language is important. But he adds, “PHMSA recognizes that a blanket requirement may be counter-productive.”

EPA, Off-Site Repairs To Compression Turbines

Intrastate and interstate pipelines are unhappy with an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed rule which would subject offsite repair of compressor station turbines to new regulatory restrictions. The proposal would affect provisions under New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for Stationary Combustion Turbines, known as Subpart KKKK. The EPA has been trying to make changes to Subpart KKKK since 2006, an effort complicated by the court challenges.

INGAA member companies operate approximately 1,000 natural gas-fired stationary combustion turbines and 6,000 natural gas-fired spark ignition reciprocating engines, according to Lisa Beal, vice president, Environment and Construction Policy, INGAA. The majority of turbines used in natural gas transmission are manufactured by Solar Turbines. Their turbines are designed with the three primary sections – the inlet compressor, combustion section and turbine – in three modular sections.

With like-kind replacement, a module can be exchanged with an analogous unit to limit down time. This allows routine overhaul to be completed at an off-site plant with special tooling and minimizes downtime for overhaul. EPA’s concern is that when an industrial turbine is fixed offsite, the owner (pipeline company) has no control over the replacement parts used. Those parts can have a big impact on emissions once the turbine is back at the compressor station.

Auxiliary Pipeline Facilities May Require FERC Approval

Pipelines won’t be able to build “auxiliary” facilities outside certificated rights of way and those work spaces if the FERC finalizes a proposed rule it issued in January. The issue focuses on whether interstate transmission companies have to come back to FERC and file a section 7 construction application if they want to add cathodic protection, electrical and communication equipment, pig launchers and receivers, and buildings beyond the existing right-of-way and work space. At issue is section 2.55 of the Commission’s regulations which defines facilities that may be added, altered or replaced under a company’s existing Natural Gas Act (NGA) section 7(c) certificate authorization, without the need for any additional authorization.

There appears to be some confusion in the industry in part because of some past, apparently erroneous FERC staff guidance. The Commission, in proposing to clarify what it says is existing policy, wants to have the chance to insure that construction work outside an approved right of way does not cause environmental damage. The FERC is not worried about valves being installed outside right-of-ways. More extensive modifications are a concern, though.

In a filing with FERC last April, INGAA argued that conventional ground bed installations for cathodic protection commonly involve construction outside of the right-of-way, and should not require Commission approval. The FERC countered in its Jan. 4, 2013 proposed rule that an alternative to the conventional method of installation is deep-well anode bed installations, which may not require disturbance outside of the right-of-way, are also in use and may offer other benefits such as greater reliability of corrosion protection. INGAA also cited communication towers for the monitoring of electrical and communication equipment as auxiliary installations that involve ground-disturbing activity and are commonly located outside of the existing right-of-way.

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