PHMSA expands safety and reporting regulations

Nov. 15, 2021

The Biden administration is expanding pipeline safety regulations to tens of thousands of additional natural gas gathering lines in onshore rural areas and will for the first time require all operators of onshore gas gathering lines to file annual reports and incident reports.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) released its final rule Nov. 2 for the new regulations, which will become effective 6 months after publication in the Federal Register.

PHMSA, an agency of the federal Transportation Department, said the new safety requirements should cover an additional tens of thousands of miles of gas gathering lines, and the expanded reporting obligations should apply to an additional 425,000 miles of gathering lines.

PHMSA regulates all gas main lines, also called transmission lines, and a large percentage of gathering lines. The gathering lines run from production sites to connections with main lines or to gas processing plants.

Since about 2006, domestic gas production has been surging. As PHMSA’s final rules explains, the great increase in production has increased risks associated with gathering lines.

“Besides larger overall production volumes, new drilling technologies have also greatly increased the volume of gas that can be extracted from a single production site,” PHMSA said in its final rule. As a result, the volumes of gas transported by gathering lines have also increased significantly.

“In order to transport this additional volume, some gas gathering lines are now constructed with large-diameter pipe and operating pressures comparable to large, interstate gas transmission pipelines,” PHMSA said.

Classes and costs

PHMSA has been regulating gas gathering lines through a system of four classes and two types. Class 1, in rural areas, has been exempt from the safety and reporting regulations issued in the Code of Federal Regulations in 49 CFR parts 191 and 192. For the other classes, PHMSA has been applying more extensive requirements to Type A lines, the higher-pressure lines, and lesser requirements to Type B lines, lower-pressure lines.

The new rule creates a Type C, to cover Class 1 lines of specified larger diameters and higher pressures relative to the rest of the Class 1 lines.

The reporting requirements to be applied to operators of all onshore gas gathering lines, will help the agency gather data about the state of the infrastructure, and monitor the safety performance of lines that have been exempt in the past.

PHMSA estimated the annual cost of the new regulations at $13.7 million a year. Of that, the biggest cost, at $7.6 million, would be for leak surveys. Other notable portions of that annual cost would be $2 million for corrosion control, $1.68 million for line markers, and slightly under $1 million for annual reporting.