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Pipelines Under New Regulations per PHMSA’s “Mega Rule”

The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has published a new set of regulations for midstream operators. Dubbed the “Mega Rule”, these new regulations were enacted to strengthen pipeline safety through various measures.

These new rules were sparked by several pipeline-related disasters in the nation in the past decade. These include oil spills in both Michigan’s Kalamazoo River and in Montana’s Yellowstone River, as well as the massive natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, California which left eight dead. Now, nearly ten years in the making, PHMSA has revised prior regulation and added new rules to safeguard the public and environment. The Mega Rule is broken into three distinct parts:

1. Safety of Gas Transmission Pipelines: Max Allowable Operating Pressure Reconfirmation,

2. Safety of Hazardous Pipelines, and

3. Enhanced Emergency Order Procedures

Approximately 500,000 miles of pipeline will be affected by the new rules, especially older pipelines. The individual mandates in each rule are extensive, but there are some major changes.

One key change relates to the operating pressures of existing pipelines. As part of the new regulation, pipelines that were constructed pre-1970 will be subjected to tests to reconfirm its maximum allowable operating pressure (MAOP), and record and report their findings to regulators. Additionally, operators will be mandated to perform safety checks on pipelines that were potentially affected or damaged by extreme weather conditions or natural disasters. Lastly, PHMSA will gain more power over pipelines, with the adoption of a 2016 interim rule which allows the agency to “impose emergency restrictions, prohibitions, or other safety measures on owners and operators of gas or hazardous liquid pipeline facilities”.

As midstream development becomes increasingly more important and vital to the nation’s energy demand, regulations such as the Mega Rule will be required to protect people and our environment. It is expected that more rule changes will follow in 2020.

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