By OGJ editors
WASHINGTON, DC, Feb. 3 -- In a proposal the gas pipeline industry sees as the "most significant" in 3 decades, the US Department of Transportation's Office of Pipeline Safety is seeking public comment on a rule designed to identify the best methods for keeping aging natural gas pipelines strong and safe.
"Continuous improvement in pipeline integrity management is essential to ensuring public confidence in the safety and reliability of our nation's growing pipeline infrastructure," said Ellen G. Engleman, administrator of the department's Research and Special Programs Administration, which oversees OPS.
The proposed rulemaking incorporates the integrity management mandates of the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act, signed into law Dec. 17 (OGJ, Dec. 2, 2002, p 28). Comments are due Mar. 31. A rule directed at oil pipelines was finalized Dec. 1, 2000.
The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America and the American Gas Association will be holding a workshop on the proposed rule Feb. 20-21 in Houston. RSPA officials are expected to attend.
Under the proposed natural gas rule, pipeline operators would dramatically expand testing and repair of their systems, especially in urbanized areas, RSPA said.
"For 2 years, RSPA has been conducting research to validate the effectiveness of direct assessment, a technology that can be used in pipelines that cannot be internally inspected. This proposed rule defines direct assessment procedures for the first time," officials said.
An INGAA spokesman said the rule "culminates 3-4 years of work between industry researchers, government and other stakeholders."
Costs to industry, consumers
Implementing the rule will be an expensive but necessary burden, according to regulators and pipeline operators.
RSPA expects the annual cost of additional baseline assessments required by the proposed rule to be $59- 298 million. Additional reassessments will be $32 million/year. New programs designed to monitor pipeline segments that are seen as "high-consequence" areas, i.e., densely populated, are expected to cost $114 million, with a $13.36 million annual reporting cost.
Government regulators see some cost savings, however. They said the proposed rule should "significantly" reduce accidents, creating $40 million/year in savings to industry.
"A lesson learned from recent pipeline accidents is that better use of available information can prevent accidents. Under this rule, operators would improve protections to their pipelines based on information evaluated within required integrity management programs that are subject to RSPA review," the agency said.
INGAA, whose members represent large interstate pipelines impacted by the rule, does not directly dispute those figures. However, it notes that its members expect there to be a possible cost to consumers of $12-17 billion over the next 20 years. Part of that estimate is related to shipping constraints that the industry anticipates will occur because the rule will require large sections of pipeline to be put out of service temporarily.