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PHMSA Tightens Pipeline Inspection Requirements

Previous disaster has prompted the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to amend and bolster existing pipeline inspection and reporting requirements.

The action is in response to several pipeline-related disasters including an explosion in San Bruno, California, where eight people tragically lost their life nine years ago, and an oil spill in which 843,000 gallons of crude funneled into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. These “lessons learned” translate into six amendments.

In a memo released by PHMSA, an outline and explanation of each amendment was given. According to the notice, the first and second amendments “extend reporting requirements” for rural gathering lines which were previous not regulated by PHMSA. The third amendment “requires inspections of pipelines in areas affected by extreme weather or natural disasters” regardless of whether the pipeline is located in a “high consequence area (HCA)” or not. The fourth amendment mandates “integrity assessments” for all pipelines not in a HCA using inline, or internal, assessment methods at least once a decade. Regulation already implanted requires the same inspections to be conducted on pipelines within a HCA every five years. The fifth amendment “extends the required use of leak detection systems beyond HCAs to all regulated hazardous liquid pipelines”, in an effort to “mitigate the effects” of pipeline failures. Lastly, the six amendment mandates that all pipelines be fitted to accommodate inline inspection tools within the next twenty years. These new rules are scheduled to be effective on July 1, 2020.

These new rules are welcomed by many who believe that the existing regulations were inadequate and left those who live near pipelines and the environment at risk in the event of a disaster. This issue is salient in the minds of many Pennsylvanians, as the Commonwealth has endured its share of pipeline emergencies such as the explosion of the Revolution Pipeline in Beaver County in 2018, and the Texas Eastern pipeline explosion in Westmoreland County in 2016. While implementation of these new regulations may take time, it is a sign of progress in pipeline safety.

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