USDOT Announces Bipartisan PIPES Act Proposal to Modernize Decades-Old Pipeline Leak Detection Rules, Invests in Critical American Infrastructure, Create Good-Paying Jobs, and Improve Safety
WASHINGTON – Following the Biden-Harris Administration’s historic announcement to invest $196 million in grants for 37 pipeline modernization projects spread across 19 states, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) today announced it is proposing a new rule to significantly improve the detection and repair of leaks from gas pipelines. As directed by the bipartisan PIPES Act of 2020, the proposed rule would create good-paying jobs, deploy pipeline workers across the country to keep more product in the pipe, and prevent dangerous accidents. These actions, if finalized, would boost efficiency, cut harmful pollution and waste, and create an estimated up to $2.3 billion annually in benefits.
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking—transmitted to the Federal Register today—would enhance public safety and lower methane emissions and other air pollution from more than 2.7 million miles of gas transmission, distribution, and gathering pipelines; 400+ underground natural gas storage facilities; and 165 liquefied natural gas facilities. The proposed rule will update decades-old federal leak detection and repair standards that rely solely on human senses in favor of new requirements that add an additional layer of safety by deploying commercially available, advanced technologies to find and fix leaks of methane and other flammable, toxic, and corrosive gases. These health and safety improvements will advance environmental justice in communities where gas pipeline infrastructure is disproportionately sited.
“Quick detection of methane leaks is an important way to keep communities safe and help curb climate change,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “We are proposing a long-overdue modernization of the way we identify and fix methane leaks, thereby reducing emissions and strengthening protections for the American people.”
Fixing wasteful and dangerous pipeline leaks is a core part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s U.S. Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan to cut energy waste and pollution, boost efficiency, and create good-paying jobs. In 2030 alone, this rule has the potential to eliminate up to 1 million metric tons of methane emissions—equivalent to 25 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, or the emissions from 5.6 million gas-powered cars. Overall, the rule would reduce emissions from covered pipelines by up to 55%. The proposal requires pipeline operators to establish advanced leak detection programs aimed at detecting and repairing all gas leaks by:
- Strengthening leakage survey and patrolling requirements by increasing the frequency of surveys and requiring the use of commercially available, advanced leak detection technology—such as aerial or vehicle surveys, handheld detection devices, and continuous monitoring systems—with flexibility for operators to use a range of approaches to meet a minimum performance standard.
- Reducing the volume of gas released due to unintentional emissions like leaks and equipment failures and revising the reporting minimum threshold to detect smaller leaks sooner.
- Minimizing intentional releases, such as those caused by equipment venting or blowdowns, associated with pipeline maintenance, repair, and construction and encouraging operators to consider cost-effective equipment that can capture the methane for later use.
- Establishing explicit criteria and timeframes for the timely repair of all leaks that pose a risk to public safety or the environment.
“On a bipartisan basis, Congress came to the common-sense conclusion that it is finally time to deploy modern technologies to find and repair pipeline leaks to prevent waste of valuable products and protect people and the environment,” said PHMSA Deputy Administrator Tristan Brown. “This rule will deploy pipeline workers across the country to find and repair leaks that will improve safety for the public—and will ensure America continues to be the global leader in methane mitigation, which is one of the most potent greenhouse gases threatening the economy and our planet today.”
Section 113 of the bipartisan PIPES Act of 2020 mandated the issuance of a rulemaking requiring the development of advanced leak detection programs capable of identifying, locating, and categorizing natural gas leaks from pipeline infrastructure for timely repair. In June of 2021, PHMSA issued guidance to gas and hazardous liquid pipeline operators that operators must update their operations and maintenance plans to minimize emissions, underscoring Congress’ new requirement in section 114 of the PIPES Act of 2020. In 2022, PHMSA fanned out across the country to inspect operations and maintenance plans to ensure compliance. Today’s proposed rule builds on these actions by indicating exactly what pipeline operators must do to comply once the rule is finalized in the coming months.
“When built by the men and women of the United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters (UA) – the best trained and most highly skilled craftspeople in the world – pipelines are the safest and least carbon intensive mode of transport for the energy that powers our nation. This proposed rule will ensure that our leak detection and mitigation efforts utilize cutting edge technology and leverage the skilled workforce required to modernize this infrastructure and keep communities safe,” said Mark McManus, General President of the United Association. “This proposed rulemaking will not only continue to put our members to work, but it will help protect Americans and increase efficiency all while reducing harmful emissions. This commonsense solution is long overdue, and thanks to the Biden-Harris Administration, it will ensure the United States remains a world leader in the energy industry for generations to come.”
This rule also builds on other national and international actions advanced by Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration to reduce methane emissions—a greenhouse gas with more than 25 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. As part of the Administration’s U.S. Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan and President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, PHMSA is also implementing funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to modernize municipally and community-owned natural gas distribution pipes. Last month, PHMSA announced the first $196 million from the nearly $1 billion Natural Gas Distribution Infrastructure Safety and Modernization grant program, and the next funding opportunity of $392 million is expected to be released this month.
The proposed rule has been transmitted to the Federal Register. A publication date will be provided when it becomes available along with an opportunity to provide public comment.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration develops and enforces regulations for the safe, reliable, and environmentally sound operation of the nation's 3.4-million-mile pipeline transportation system and the nearly 1.2 million daily shipments of hazardous materials by land, sea, and air. Please visit https://www.phmsa.dot.gov for more information.