The Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 amended the Federal pipeline safety laws to require that the Secretary of Transportation revise pipeline safety regulations, as needed, to allow operators to implement alternative mitigation measures if repairs to pipelines cannot be completed within specified time frames. As explained below, RSPA/OPS interprets existing pipeline repair requirements to allow for alternative mitigative measures while an operator has applied for and is waiting for a permit in order to effectuate a repair.
General pipeline facility repair requirements in 49 CFR 192.703 (for natural gas pipelines) and 49 CFR 195.401 (for hazardous liquid pipelines) require repair of conditions that are “unsafe” or “could adversely affect the safe operation of the pipeline system,” but do not specify a time period in which the required repairs must be made. These provisions, instead, require an operator to take actions necessary to assure the pipeline is safe and to take these actions “within a reasonable time.” Thus, for the non immediate hazard conditions, a reasonable repair time allows for an operator to obtain the Federal, state or local permits necessary to make a repair. RSPA/OPS expects an operator to exercise diligence in obtaining the necessary permits by being able to demonstrate that it has applied for the applicable permit and is taking all necessary steps for the permit to be processed and granted. In this interim period until the permit is granted, an operator is allowed to take alternative actions to mitigate the condition, as long as the actions are compatible with pipeline safety. The reasonable time provision does not apply to an immediate hazard condition. If circumstances associated with a particular pipeline problem are such that safety is immediately in jeopardy, then immediate action is appropriate and delay would be inconsistent with the protection of human health, public safety, and the environment.
The only current regulation that specifies time periods for pipeline repairs is the recently promulgated integrity management rule for hazardous liquid pipelines, 49 CFR 195.452. The remediation requirements of this regulation require an operator to remediate defects meeting certain criteria immediately or within 60 or 180 days, depending on the defect’s severity. This regulation further provides for an operator to take alternative mitigation measures if it cannot make the repair within the specified period for any reason, including being unable to obtain required permits.
RSPA/OPS discussed the need for additional requirements including alternative mitigative measures with its advisory committees, the Technical Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Safety Standards Committee and the Technical Pipeline Safety Standards Committee, at a joint meeting held on March 26, 2003. The Committees agreed that the existing allowance for pressure reduction or case-by-case definition of alternative measures, via operator notification to RSPA/OPS, represents viable alternative measures, and that additional rulemaking to add alternatives was not needed.
Because RSPA/OPS interprets its pipeline repair requirements as allowing for interim alternative mitigation measures while an operator is diligently pursuing the granting of a permit, no further regulatory action is necessary. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mike Israni by phone at (202) 366-4571, by fax at (202) 366-4566, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.