PHMSA Announces Proposed Rulemaking Affecting Natural Gas Distribution Systems

August 25, 2023

On Aug. 24, 2023, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) announced the forthcoming publication of a notice of proposed rulemaking intended to improve safety on gas distribution pipelines nationwide by improving emergency response plans, integrity management plans and operation manuals, among other things. Comments will be due 60 days from the date the notice is published in the Federal Register.

This notice of proposed rulemaking implements congressionally mandated revisions from the Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act, enacted as part of the Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act of 2020, commonly known as the 2020 PIPES Act. It also addresses recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board.

The proposed rule would require pipeline operators to improve construction procedures designed to minimize the risk of incidents caused by system over-pressurization and update distribution integrity management programs to cover and prepare for over-pressurization incidents. Additionally, any new regulator stations would have to be designed with secondary pressure relief valves and remote gas monitoring. 

The proposed rule emphasizes the importance of emergency response plans, and requires operators to contact local emergency responders and keep customers and the public informed of what to do in case of an emergency. Additionally, PHMSA’s proposed effective dates for some of these proposed requirements would begin one year after the final rule’s publication. 

McGuireWoods’ crisis management and incident response practice group combats, navigates and mitigates immediate multifront challenges while anticipating and accounting for longer-term liabilities such as class action lawsuits, congressional investigations and loss of shareholder confidence. As one of the few law firms in the United States with a nationwide incident response practice, McGuireWoods also helps clients prepare for and prevent incidents through advising and counseling around significant legal and policy developments. This practice group manages the varying interests that arise pre- and post-incident, balancing these interests while ensuring employee and public safety, limiting a company’s litigation and other exposure, and facilitating a company’s efforts to keep the affected asset in service.