PHMSA proposal aims to strengthen state pipeline damage programs

The US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration proposed revisions to federal pipeline regulations aimed at strengthening states’ excavation damage prevention programs and increasing penalties for violators.

The proposed rule also would allow for federal enforcement against violators in cases where state enforcement may not occur, PHMSA said on Mar. 30. Comments will be accepted through June 1.

PHMSA said that the proposal specifically would establish:

• Criteria and an administrative process to determine the adequacy of a state’s excavation damage prevention law enforcement program.

• Federal requirements that PHMSA would enforce against excavators in states determined to have inadequate damage prevention enforcement programs.

• An enforcement process to impose federal fines and penalties for violations.

PHMSA said these procedures also would address a congressional directive requiring PHMSA to establish procedures to evaluate state damage prevention enforcement programs. By law, PHMSA must establish these criteria prior to any attempt to conduct federal enforcement proceedings in a state where an excavator damages a pipeline, it said.

The US Department of Transportation agency noted that third-party excavation damage continues to be a leading cause of all US pipeline failures and is the single greatest threat to the safety, reliability, and integrity of the natural gas distribution system. It said despite PHMSA’s efforts to reduce these incidents, excavation activities accounted for more than 25% of fatalities resulting from pipeline failures in the US between 2002 and 2011.

“Those who violate damage prevention laws must be held accountable,” PHMSA Administrator Cynthia L. Quarterman said. “We will continue to work to strengthen damage prevention laws, partner with states to strengthen their enforcement programs, and impose stiffer fines and penalties for these types of pipeline failures.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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