Feds tighten pipeline spill regulations

February 1, 2002 By    

Recently adopted changes in federal pipeline safety rules substantially lower the threshold of who must file reports when liquid pipelines spill.

The Research and Special Programs Administration claims it issued the final rules, effective Jan. 1, because it wasn’t getting enough data to determine safety levels.

The changes lower the threshold for requiring reports from 50 barrels to five gallons. The exception is that operators will not have to report spills of less than five barrels if maintenance activities cause them. RSPA acknowledges that such spills occur regularly upon the opening of pipelines for insertion of spheres, smart pigs, or for routine inspections. These spills are usually caught in a berm or other containment device, are cleaned up immediately, and have little or no impact on the environment.”

But the agency warns that operators must clean up such spills immediately if they don’t want to report them.

RSPA is replacing its two-page form with a four-page form, but operators will only have to fill out the first page for spills less than five barrels that don’t cause water pollution. RSPA redesigned the form so all respondents will provide all spill information on the first page instead of having to enter data in two places, as some previously had to.

RSPA also adopted for liquid pipelines the same injury reporting standard as for gas pipelines. It replaces the “bodily harm” criterion (which theoretically reported requiring of every scratch) with one requiring reporting of “personal injury necessitating in-patient hospitalization.”

RSPA now uses consistent injury reports for all pipeline accidents. It says it does not plan to track worker injuries.

And spillers will now have to report on “wildlife impact” instead of just “wildlife mortality.” A bird that gets soaked in oil and survives counts as environmental impact.

Also, spillers now won’t have to report on paper. They can complete an electronic form available at http://ops.dot.gov. Details can be found in the Jan. 8 Federal Register.

RSPA adds that it may at a later date add information to the form for “estimated leak rate” and “estimated percentage of flow.”

In another rulemaking, RSPA changed corrosion control standards for hazardous liquid pipelines. The new rules (see the Dec. 27 Federal Register) took effect Jan. 28, but they set several compliance dates for the tougher standards. Operators of some “effectively coated buried piping in break-out tank areas or pump stations” will have to cathodically protect the piping by Dec. 29, 2003.

But operators of pipelines already cathodically protected or of segments without test leads for external corrosion control won’t have to install test leads until Dec. 29, 2004. They will have to determine when or where a close-interval survey or other technology “is practicable and necessary” by Dec. 29, 2003.

Operators of unprotected pipe will have to reevaluate the need for corrosion control every three years starting Dec. 29, 2003.

RSPA also finalized rules regarding Pipeline Integrity Management in High Consequence Areas regarding repair criteria for hazardous liquid pipelines. The rules modify ones published in December, 2000 regarding lines in populated areas, environmentally sensitive zones and commercially navigable waterways. Most of the changes take effect Feb. 13.

The new provisions mainly correct and clarify language in the rules. They replace the word “repair” with “remediate” when referring to what operators must to when they find problems, for instance.

They state that the point of discovery of a problem operators must remediate begins “when an operator has adequate information about a condition to determine the condition presents a potential threat to the integrity of the pipeline.” The point in time will vary. Details are available in the Jan. 14 Federal Register.

RSPA also proposed new rules to define “areas of high consequence” where gas pipeline accidents “may be significant or may do considerable harm to people and their property.” RSPA is taking comments through March 11. Details are in the Jan. 9 Federal Register.

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