Regulators seek new rules for natural gas pipelines

The Department of Transportation is proposing new regulations for natural gas pipelines that would expand federal safety standards to a bigger group of pipelines.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's (PHMSA) proposal would implement new assessment and repair criteria and apply them to gas lines in moderately populated areas. The rules previously only applied to densely populated areas.

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It would also make pre-1970 pipelines, previously left out of the regulatory reach, subject to many of the same rules older structures must follow.

PHMSA said the proposal stems from a number of lessons learned through investigations and major disasters, like a 2010 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, Calif., that killed eight people.

“The significant growth in the nation's production, usage and commercialization of natural gas is placing unprecedented demands on the nation's pipeline system,” Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony FoxxToll roads poised to boom under Trump plan Transportation chief urges Trump to press forward on self-driving cars Five transportation issues to watch under Trump MORE said in a statement. ”This proposal includes a number of commonsense measures that will better ensure the safety of communities living alongside pipeline infrastructure and protect our environment.”

PHMSA Administrator Marie Therese Dominguez said the San Bruno explosion was a major reason for the new rules, along with the 2011 pipeline safety law.

“The proposal's components address the emerging needs of America's natural gas pipeline system and adapt and expand risk-based safety practices to pipelines located in areas where incidents could have serious consequences,” she said.

Thursday’s standards do not mandate automatic shut-off or leak detection systems, one of the major remaining regulations from the 2011 law and a top ask of pipeline safety advocates.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), whose district includes San Bruno, was nonetheless pleased.

“I’m relieved to see that PHMSA is finally introducing a rule to get rid of the Grandfather Clause, which allowed pipes installed before 1970 to go uninspected,” she said.

“But I’m still disappointed it took them four years to make this simple change after Congress required them to do so by law. This is a long overdue step for public safety, so that other communities don’t have to suffer like the people of San Bruno have suffered,” Speier continued.

Speier said she’ll continue pushing for the shut-off and leak detection standards, and that PHMSA has assured her they’re under development as part of a separate rule.