Last month, on March 20, in response to the U.S. Declaration of a National Emergency relating to the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19), the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), Office of Pipeline Safety issued an important notice to operators of gas pipelines and storage facilities, hazardous liquids pipelines and liquified natural gas facilities.
The PHMSA notice specifically recognizes that operators may be faced with limited personnel resource constraints due to COVID-19 that may require actions that do not fully meet federal Operator Qualifications (OQ), Control Room Management (CRM) requirements, employment drug testing requirements or other regulatory requirements under 49 C.F.R. Parts 190 through 199. In response to this National Emergency, PHMSA has announced that it does not intend to take any enforcement action against affected operators related to OQ or CRM requirements, and PHMSA will consider exercising its enforcement discretion with regard to incidents relating to drug testing requirements.
Moreover PHMSA is effectively pushing the deadline to meet gas pipeline compliance requirements under Part 192 of the Mega Rule to December 31, providing a temporary suspension of enforcement related to control room operating hours and operator qualification (OC) while easing some training requirements.
Lastly, PHMSA will not object to waivers, special permits, stays of enforcement, or similar measures granted by State authorities to intrastate gas pipeline operators for noncompliance with State regulations equivalent to the new Part 192 requirements listed above that are issued as a result of the National Emergency," the notice states.
PHMSA specified that the changes do not affect any other provisions of the Final Rule and do not apply to Part 191 reporting requirements or compliance deadlines. It also emphasized that operators must continue to comply with all safety regulations.