Proposed PHMSA Rulemaking Affects Natural Gas Pipelines

May 31, 2023

On May 18, 2023, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) published a notice of proposed rulemaking intended to improve the detection and repair of leaks from new and existing natural gas pipelines and certain gas facilities.

The proposed rule would update federal leak detection and repair standards, and affect more than 2.7 million miles of pipelines, over 400 underground natural gas storage facilities and 165 liquefied natural gas facilities. PHMSA said these updates would boost efficiency, cut pollution and waste, and create an estimated $2.3 billion annually in benefits. The estimated annualized monetary cost would range between $740 million and $900 million. According to the proposal, the rule could reduce unintended emissions from regulated gathering pipelines by 27%, from transmission pipelines by 17% and from distribution pipelines by 44% to 62%, and reduce blowdown emissions by approximately 43%.

DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg stated that “[q]uick detection of methane leaks is an important way to keep communities safe….” In his view, the proposed rule is a “long-overdue modernization of the way we identify and fix methane leaks.” While the proposed rule acknowledges PHMSA’s existing leak detection and repair standards, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency’s own leak detection requirements, it seeks to strengthen leakage survey and patrolling requirements. The proposed rule also seeks to enhance standards for advanced leak detection programs, leak grading and repair criteria with mandatory repair timelines, and requirements for mitigation of emissions from blowdowns, and seeks to clarify requirements for investigating failures, among other things.

The proposed rule would require operators of transmission, distribution and part 192-regulated gathering pipelines to identify and repair all leaks in a timely manner. This would require classifying and repairing leaks according to schedules based on the leak’s public safety and environmental risks. To comply, operators would be required to demonstrate that their equipment and programs can detect all leaks above a minimum threshold.

Operators of part 193-regulated liquefied natural gas facilities also would have to perform quarterly methane leakage surveys of non-tank equipment. These operators would be required to repair leaks consistent with maintenance or abnormal operations procedures.

Please contact an alert author for advice regarding impacts the proposed rule may have on your business operations. We will continue to provide updates regarding if and when PHMSA proceeds with its final rule as well as implementation considerations.