The Feds Put U.S. Pipeline Operators On Notice: Minimize Natural Gas Releases

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The Feds Put U.S. Pipeline Operators On Notice: Minimize Natural Gas Releases

Wed, 06/09/2021 - 10:42
The flag of the USA (copyright by Shutterstock/Graeme Dawes)
The flag of the USA (copyright by Shutterstock/Graeme Dawes)

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has submitted an advisory bulletin to the Federal Register underscoring to pipeline and facility operators requirements to minimize methane gas emissions in the Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety (PIPES) Act of 2020.

The PIPES Act mandates pipeline operators in the United States  to update their inspection and maintenance plans to address the elimination of hazardous leaks, and to minimize natural gas releases from pipeline facilities. The updated plans must also address the replacement or remediation at facilities that historically have been known to experience leaks. This action is only one piece of PHMSA’s ongoing efforts to minimize methane emissions.  

“Minimizing methane emissions from pipelines will help improve safety and combat climate change, while creating jobs for pipeline workers,” said PHMSA Acting Administrator Tristan Brown. “Pipeline operators have an obligation to protect the public and the environment by identifying and addressing methane leaks.”

In the advisory, PHMSA reminds operators of their obligation to comply with Section 114 of the PIPES Act by December 27, 2021.  The Act requires operators to update their inspection and maintenance plans to identify procedures to prevent and mitigate both vented (intentional) and fugitive (unintentional) pipeline emissions.  Vented emissions can occur during repairs, maintenance, pressure relief systems, or other controlled activities.  Fugitive emissions include leaks from mains or service lines, natural gas meters, or excavation damage, as well as other accidental releases.

And in what is likely to be a boon for pipeline contractors, the advisory also specifies that operator plans are required to address the replacement or remediation of pipelines made from cast iron, bare steel, certain vintage plastic, or other legacy materials that are known to cause a disproportionately large share of incidents involving methane leaks.  

The Advisory Bulletin applies to the nation’s entire 2.8 million-mile pipeline network, over 17,000 underground natural gas wells, and 164 liquefied natural gas facilities—covering an estimated 1/3rd of the estimated methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.  PHMSA and state pipeline safety regulatory programs will begin inspecting operator plans for compliance with the requirements in 2022.

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