For decades, gas-gathering pipelines located in rural areas largely escaped the federal scrutiny that was primarily focused on transmission pipelines. But all that has changed with final publication of the so-called Mega Rule, which applies federal pipeline safety regulations to hundreds of thousands of miles of gas-gathering pipelines — previously not subject to federal safety regulation — for the first time. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the history behind the three-part Mega Rule, what it’s designed to do, and the challenges pipeline operators will face to stay in compliance.
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Discussions about ways to improve natural gas pipeline safety go back many years but gained greater prominence after a deadly explosion in San Bruno, CA, in September 2010. In that incident, a 30-inch-diameter segment of a state-regulated intrastate natural gas transmission pipeline owned and operated by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) ruptured in a residential area of San Bruno, a city just south of San Francisco. The released natural gas ignited, resulting in a fire that destroyed 38 homes and damaged 70 others. Eight people were killed and several dozen injured. According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the explosion was caused by deficiencies in quality assurance and quality control during the pipe’s installation as well as an inadequate pipeline-integrity program that failed to detect the defective section of pipeline. California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) exemptions related to pressure testing for existing pipelines, which likely would have detected the installation defects, were also cited as a factor, as was the CPUC’s failure to notice and address the inadequacies of PG&E’s pipeline-integrity program.
In response to the San Bruno incident and others, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANOPR) related to pipeline safety in August 2011. An ANOPR is a formal invitation for the public to participate in shaping a proposed rule and sets the notice-and-comment process in motion. The agency then published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) in April 2016 based on comments received in response to the previous notice. The NOPR is the official document that announces and explains the agency’s plan to address a problem or accomplish a goal.
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