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Natural Gas Gathering Pipelines Subject to Federal Oversight by PHMSA

November 12, 2021

The US Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a final rule on November 2, 2021 expanding the applicability of the federal pipeline safety regulations to certain onshore gas gathering lines with large diameters and high-operating pressures.

Under the final rule,[1] operators of all onshore gas gathering lines will be required to file incident reports and annual reports that will provide information on the extent, configuration, and safety performance of the gas gathering lines. The final rule also applies a set of safety requirements to a new category of gathering lines—“Type C gathering lines,” which are gathering lines with large diameters (8.625 inches or more) and high-operating pressures. The final rule will become effective six months after it is published in the Federal Register.

Gas gathering lines are pipelines that are used to transport natural gas from a current production facility to a transmission line or distribution main line and are used to collect unprocessed gas from production facilities for transport to a gas treatment plant or other facility. Gas gathering lines traditionally have been smaller diameter and lower-pressure pipelines and therefore release less gas and energy during an incident, as compared to a major transmission line, which has a larger diameter and a higher-operating pressure. Over time, with changing demand factors, the volume of gas transported by gathering lines has increased. To accommodate the additional volume, some gas gathering lines have been constructed with large diameter pipes and operating pressures that are more akin to large, interstate transmission pipelines. The large diameter, high pressure gathering lines are susceptible to the same types of integrity threats as transmission lines, including corrosion, excavation damage, and construction defects. However, gas gathering lines have been exempt from the federal pipeline safety regulations.

PHMSA has been regulating gas gathering lines through four classes—Class 1 (lowest level of human occupancy), Class 2, Class 3, and Class 4 (highest level of human occupancy)—and two types (Type A and B). Type A regulated gathering lines are located in Class 2, 3, or 4 locations and operate at relatively higher-stress levels, and Type B gathering lines are lower-stress pipelines in Class 3, Class 4, and certain Class 2 locations. Gathering lines in Class 1 locations have been excluded from the reporting and safety standards. The final rule creates two new categories of gas gathering lines, Type R gathering lines and Type C gathering lines, and is intended to reduce the frequency and consequences of failure of onshore gas gathering lines and the likelihood of gas-related releases and incidents.

Type R gathering lines are gathering lines that are not designated as regulated gathering lines under Part 192, but are now subject to the reporting requirements under Part 191. PHMSA explained that the reporting requirements are necessary to allow it to evaluate the safety risks on gas gathering systems, given their changing functional and operational characteristics, to understand the consequences of these changes, and to set requirements for gathering lines in the future. PHMSA stated that the information obtained through these reports will enable it to identify design, manufacture, installation, and operational/maintenance issues common to particular pipeline characteristics or operators and to promulgate regulatory requirements or pursue enforcement activity. PHMSA has developed an abbreviated annual report and incident report form for Type R gathering lines.

Type C gathering lines are gathering lines located in Class 1 locations that have an outer diameter of 8.625 inches or more and operate at higher-stress levels of pressures. PHMSA explained that the purpose of adding the Type C category is to ensure that operators of larger-diameter, higher-pressure gathering lines in Class 1 locations follow a basic set of requirements targeting known threats to public safety and pipeline integrity, including excavation damage, corrosion, and inadequate design and construction standards. Type C gathering lines will be subject to minimum safety standards, including design, installation, construction, and initial inspection and testing for lines that are new, replaced, relocated, or otherwise changed after 2007; corrosion control; a damage prevention program; emergency plans; public awareness; line markers; and leakage surveys. The safety requirements will vary based on the outer diameter of the pipeline and potential consequences of a failure. For example, Type C gathering lines with an outside diameter of more than 16 inches and certain other Type C gathering lines that could directly affect homes and other structures are required to comply with the existing requirements for Type B gathering lines. Type C gathering lines with smaller diameters or that could not directly affect homes and other structures have fewer requirements that are limited to damage prevention, emergency plans, and public awareness.

PHMSA estimates that at least 425,000 miles of onshore gas gathering lines will be subject to PHMSA oversight once the final rule becomes effective. PHMSA added that it is currently working to develop additional regulations that will enhance the safety oversight of gas gathering lines.

Contacts

If you have any questions or would like more information on the issues discussed in this LawFlash, please contact any of the following Morgan Lewis lawyers:

Washington, DC
Kirstin Gibbs
Pamela Wu



[1] Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Pipeline Safety: Safety of Gas Gathering Pipelines: Extension of Reporting Requirements (Nov. 2, 2021).