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  • Writer's pictureJohn Perry

Decoding the PHMSA Mega Rule: Key Implications for Pipeline Safety and Compliance

What is the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's (PHMSA) Mega Rule, and how does it affect pipeline safety? This guide will answer just that.

From inspection and quality assurance processes to gas gathering regulations, we'll take an in-depth look at what the Mega Rule entails and uncover the necessary actions to ensure compliance.

Alaskan Pipeline Pre PHMSA Mega Rule

We'll also uncover how it has shaped compliance and safety protocols for operators and pipeline construction workers since July 2020.

PHMSA Mega Rule Overview

Purpose of the Mega Rule

The Mega rule was created in response to the Pacific Gas and Electrical Company rupture and release in San Bruno California. Its objective: to improve the safety of the US pipeline infrastructure and to avoid future incidents posed by transporting hazardous materials.

PHMSA's Mega rule is structured into three main parts:

  1. MAOP Reconfirmation and Material Verification

  2. Repair Criteria, Inspections, and Leak Detection

  3. Gas Gathering Line Regulations

Each segment plays a significant role in fortifying pipeline integrity.

Let’s delve deeper into each segment and dissect how the compliance and regulations set by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration preserves public safety and manages the nation’s intricate network of natural gas conduits.

Part 1: MAOP Reconfirmation and Material Verification

The initial segment of the Mega Rule mandates that gas transmission pipelines must maintain proper documentation.

Records must be identifiable, credible, and comprehensive. Should records fail to meet the minimum requirements, gas pipeline operators must reassess Maximum Allowable Operating Pressure (MAOP) using one of six approved techniques.

Key dates:

This rule targets older 'grandfathered' pipelines that were once exempt. Older pipelines must have a specified minimum strength of at least 30 percent. Additionally, if they haven't been tested for maximum pressure lately, that's also included.

If the paperwork doesn't meet the TVC standards, supplementary protocols must be created and followed to verify the materials constituting the gas gathering lines. The deadline to get this paperwork in order was July 1, 2021.

Natural gas pipeline operators are responsible for ensuring that half of their total pipeline distance meets safety standards by July 3, 2028.

By July 2, 2035, they also need to confirm that all remaining mileage also complies. These rules and stipulations are designed to improve pipeline safety by identifying and managing risk, and implementing proactive practices to prevent operational mishaps.

Part 2: Repair Criteria, Inspections, and Leak Detection

Under the PHMSA's Mega Rule, gas transmission pipelines face stricter rules , more rigorous repair criteria, and regular inspections.

Northeaster Pipeline in the winter with slightly melted snow on the ground

Every decade years, pipelines must undergo integrity assessments. This includes checking both High Consequence Areas and Moderate Consequence Areas. If records don't confirm the strength and reliability of the pipelines, material verification is required.

The Augmented Integrity management rules require pipeline operators to throughly identify and assess all possible hazards to their gas gathering lines. With a focus on corrosion control protocols, operators must regularly monitor and test to prevent damage to the the pipelines strength and structural soundness.

After extreme weather events, gas transmission pipelines must also be inspected within 72 hours, if it's safe to do so. If any safety-compromising issues are found, it must be fixed promptly.

Pipeline operators in High Consequence Areas, must comply with rules regarding leak detection system installations within 20 years. This excludes older pipelines that can't feasibly have these systems added to their design.

Part 3: Gas Gathering Line Regulations

PHMSA Mega Rule now oversees more than 400,00 of onshore gas transmission pipelines. This expansion includes the categorization of a new pipeline type known as Type C. It also sets additional rules for managing emergencies, giving PHMSA the power to give orders in urgent situations.

The final rule pertaining to onshore gas gathering lines was released on August 4, 2022, and was placed in effect beginning May 24, 2023.

These regulations mean that pipeline operators must follow additional obligations and adhere to new legal requirements.

Lastly, they also face higher compliance costs due to new rules that involve valve installation and the detection of ruptures in gas gathering operations.

Implementing PHMSA Mega Rule in Construction Practices

Natural gas pipeline runs through green mountains

Mega Rule stipulates that gas pipeline construction exceeding 1,000 feet, must include indirect assessments on the surface after backfilling. These checks are essential to defending potential coating damage to onshore gas gathering pipelines.

Adhering to these regulatory requirements in natural gas pipeline constructions is crucial in meeting the requirements of the PHMSA Mega Rule.

It's not only imperative for the initial phase of constructing transmission infrastructures, but Mega Rule compliance also influences the operation and maintenance of pipelines well into the future.

Pipeline Design and Material Selection

Identifying the right materials to ensure pipeline safety is critical when complying with Mega Rule regulations and preventing future incidents.

Pipeline operators are required to carry out interference surveys and fix any problems if a high level of stray currents is detected.

Designing onshore gas transmission pipelines in line with PHMSA Mega Rule standards means identifying the best construction techniques and protocols.

Construction Methodologies and Techniques

According to the Mega Rule, pipeline operators can choose to conduct Engineering Critical Assessments (ECAs) instead of replacing or re-testing pipelines when reaffirming Maximum Allowable Operating Pressure (MAOP).

This rule mandates that during the construction of onshore gas gathering pipelines, methods to lessen the damage from environmental factors such as shifting soil and scour should be implemented.

It is imperative that suitable materials are selected and proper construction practices are followed in adherence to these requirements.

Inspection and Quality Assurance Processes

Pipeline operators are required by the PHMSA Mega Rule to:

  • Establish and uphold a strong integrity management program to ensure pipeline safety and condition.

  • Maintain thorough documentation as part of their protocol.

  • Continuously monitor and analyze pipeline data to detect any possible threat.

To maintain safety and safeguard communities in surrounding areas, pipelines in high-consequence zones must undergo more frequent evaluations.

The updated guidelines in 49 CFR 192 stipulate new inspection techniques and integrity management protocols for pipeline operators, underscoring a heightened dedication to maintenance and operational practices.

Emerging Technologies for Enhanced Compliance and Safety

Cutting-edge technologies are becoming increasingly important in maintaining safety and adherence to the PHMSA Mega Rule. Implementing advanced systems to detect leaks, including real-time geospatial mapping, is vital for quickly finding and fixing pipeline safety issues.

Disruptive technologies such as Meandering Winding Magnetometer-Array (MWM-Array) and Magnetoresistive Array are transforming how we detect and analyze damage within pipelines.

Techniques like NoPig can now check how thick a pipe's wall is, without requiring pigging (a natural gas pipeline cleaning and maintenance tool). This shows how technology is helping us meet the strict safety requirements of the PHMSA Mega Rule.

Location Intelligence Platforms

Location technology aids in ensuring compliance by helping track and report pipelines at risk from weather-related events. They also help pinpoint higher-risk pipelines for faster outreach to affected property owners.

Platforms like LightBox provide geo-mapping and record-keeping tools for gas gathering lines. Meanwhile, the Technical Toolboxes Pipeline HUB combines data across teams to meet TVC regulatory standards.

Effective data integration and management, from different data sources and detecting schema drifts, are important for adjusting to the new PHMSA requirements. Cloud-based data pipelines provide flexible and effective solutions for managing the increasing amount of data related to ensuring pipelines are safe and compliant.

Advanced Leak Detection Systems

Advanced leak detection technologies are at the forefront of upholding Mega Rule safety standards and regulations. Their ability to efficiently identify pipeline issues is crucial to incident prevention and compliance assurance.

Airborne LIDAR systems have emerged as a disruptive solution to quickly and accurately detect and map leaks in pipelines, enhancing pipeline safety.

Free-swimming acoustic tools have also improved for finding leaks in natural gas transmission pipelines.

We eagerly anticipate the continued emergence of innovative and disruptive technologies that simplify compliance adherence, ensuring the seamless integration of safety standards in the pipeline industry.

Final Thoughts

It's safe to say (pun intended) that understanding and adhering to the PHMSA Mega Rule is essential for ensuring the safety and compliance of internal and external stakeholders.

With its inception in July 2020, the Mega Rule has significantly shaped compliance and safety protocols in the pipeline industry.

At BCE, safety and compliance are our top priorities. With an in-house compliance lawyer available for consultation and leadership well-versed in the natural gas and pipeline industry, we are dedicated to assisting companies in navigating and adhering to compliance rules and regulations.

By prioritizing safety and leveraging technology, we are here to help our clients uphold the Mega Rule and other safety and compliance laws, ensuring the integrity of our nation's pipeline infrastructure and safeguarding communities are as much our priority as our clients'.

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