Congress passes omnibus legislation including pipeline regulatory update

Jan. 4, 2021

Congress passed bills to revise and reauthorize pipeline safety regulation and promote energy research and development Dec. 21 as parts of a legislative package including an omnibus federal spending bill and a pandemic relief bill.

The 5,593-page omnibus included a $1.4-trillion Consolidated Appropriations Act to fund federal agencies through Sept. 30, 2021, and a $900 billion COVID-19 economic assistance bill as its main elements. But several other bills were attached.

The House passed the omnibus in two lopsided votes after which the Senate voted 92-6 to send the package to the president.

PHMSA reauthorized

The omnibus included a reauthorization of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and came as a relief to oil and natural gas trade associations worried about what changes might be made, such as the risk of aggressive and inflexible requirements for monitoring and control of methane.

As it turned out, the elements of regulatory modernization surviving in the reauthorization drew praise from the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA) and the American Gas Association (AGA). They called it a bipartisan accomplishment.

“New funding for our nation’s pipeline safety program and updates to PHMSA’s regulations to reflect the latest technologies and practices will both enhance safety and benefit the environment,” said INGAA.

Funding will increase gradually over 4 years, the money coming mostly from user fees and the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. It would rise from $172 million in the current fiscal year to $187 million in fiscal 2023, up from the $165 million authorized for 2019.

Regulatory requirements include provisions modernizing pipeline leak detection and repair and “further reducing methane emissions,” INGAA said. The bill also will update safety regulations for LNG liquefaction plants.

R&D for carbon management

The omnibus includes parts of more than one bill to enhance research and development for carbon capture, use, and storage. The oil and gas industry has advocated such research and development (R&D) with the thought that carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels can be put to good uses.

Oil producers long have used carbon dioxide and other gases as well as liquids and steam for secondary recovery from oil fields, but the volumes of carbon dioxide from power plants vastly exceed such oil field uses and often are remote from such fields.

Energy R&D provisions in the omnibus promote energy efficiency in various ways, including gas turbine efficiency. Other provisions promote renewable energy, nuclear energy, energy storage, and critical minerals.