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Pipeline Safety Program Reviews

In the aftermaths of the natural gas pipeline explosion and fire in San Bruno, California on September 9, 2010, and the hazardous liquid pipeline rupture in Marshall, Michigan on July 25, 2010, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) formally recommended that the Secretary of Transportation conduct two audits of programs within the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) Office of Pipeline Safety. Accordingly, the Department’s Office of the Under Secretary for Policy tasked PHMSA’s Office of the Chief Safety Officer to conduct a review of the two program activities within the Office of Pipeline Safety that were specified by the NTSB: the integrity management program, and the oil spill response plan program. The audits were completed in 2013 and 2017, respectively.

Integrity Management Program

Pipeline Integrity Management: An Evaluation to Help Improve PHMSA’s Oversight Of Performance-Based Pipeline Safety Programs

Pipeline Integrity Management


The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) identified actions that could improve the Department’s oversight of performance-based safety programs and formally recommended that the Secretary of Transportation conduct an audit to address these concerns.  Integrity Management is a performance-based, process-oriented regulatory program developed by PHMSA in response to the Accountable Pipeline Safety and Partnership Act of 1996 (PL 104-304) and the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 (PL 107-355).  Integrity Management is intended to replicate the methods used by best-in-class safety-oriented organizations to improve safety performance continually through an iterative process of collecting data, identifying risks, undertaking corrective action, and assessing performance.

Purpose and Results of the Integrity Management Review

The purpose of this review was to assess PHMSA’s experience with Integrity Management as a regulatory approach, to identify the challenges with applying Integrity Management in a regulatory context, and to offer suggestions to improve program performance. The review describes the challenges that arise when transitioning from a predominantly prescriptive-based regulatory regime to an approach that balances prescriptive regulations with a performance-based approach. 

The review suggests that it is more difficult to monitor performance-based regulations than a static set of rules, and to objectively determine compliance or non-compliance. Successful implementation of performance-based systems requires a significant operator commitment to the approach; a diverse set of skills that extend beyond pipeline engineering; detailed information on each individual pipeline system and operating conditions; and an understanding of the causes of accidents and near-accidents. There is a risk that some operators may adopt Integrity Management principles without understanding or properly implementing the substance.

Regulators require information about pipeline conditions and incident causes in order to accurately assess programmatic effectiveness. For both operators and regulators, the heart of Integrity Management is to identify the most serious risks through evaluation of system and accident data, take corrective action, evaluate program effectiveness, and take new measures based on an assessment of the results. The report noted the general inadequacy of industry risk-models used to target risk and concluded that PHMSA needs more information to effectively assess the performance of pipeline Integrity Management.

Efforts Underway to Effect Continuous Improvement in Pipeline Safety

PHMSA acknowledges the challenges involved in successfully implementing Integrity Management, both for operators and as a regulatory program, but believes that a data-driven, risk-based, safety management program, as required by PHMSA’s Integrity Management program, offers a flexible yet rigorous approach that can continue to deliver continuous safety improvements over time. The agency’s actions are intended to make Integrity Management more effective, while continuing to identify and implement specific measures to inform and mitigate risk.  Pipeline operators, as owners of the pipeline infrastructure, are required to know and understand their pipeline system operating requirements.  PHMSA challenges operators to focus on performance and aim beyond the minimum compliance standards established through pipeline safety regulations, to ensure the safety of the public that lives and works around pipelines.

Motivated by lessons learned, the results of its inspections, multiple major accidents, and recent technical studies, PHMSA took action to improve Integrity Management regulations through two Advanced Notices of Proposed Rulemakings (ANPRM), titled “Safety of On-Shore Hazardous Liquid Pipelines” issued on October 18, 2010, and “Safety of Gas Transmission Pipelines” issued on October 25, 2011.  These ANPRMs led to the development of two major Notices of Proposed Rulemakings (NPRMs): the NPRM for Gas Transmission Pipelines was published on March 17, 2016;  the NPRM for Hazardous Liquid Pipelines was published on October 1, 2015.  Both of these NPRMs involve major improvements to the gas and hazardous liquid Integrity Management programs, and are still under consideration by PHMSA.In response to the report PHMSA also proposed revisions to the National Pipeline Mapping System, published  Advisory Bulletins such as, “Pipeline Safety:  Lessons Learned from the Release at Marshall, Michigan,” improved its operator reporting forms to capture better data, increased public awareness and outreach, encouraged additional emergency response training, and invested in research, development and technology, conducted workshop series on pipeline Safety Management Systems (SMS). 

Oil Spill Response Plan Program

An Assessment of the Office of Pipeline Safety’s Onshore Facility Response Plan Program

Oil Spill Response Plan Audit Report


The Oil Spill Response Plan (OSRP) Program was developed in response to legislative authority in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, PL 101-380 (OPA 90), which requires operators have response plans in order to handle, store, or transport oil. PHMSA’s Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) is responsible for the review and approval of oil spill response plans for onshore pipeline facilities; it may also carry out response plan exercises but is not required by law to do so. The regulations in 49 U.S.C. pt. 194 (Part 194) serve as the foundation for the program and its activities, and review criteria are used to approve response plans and ensure Part 194 compliance. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) identified actions that could improve the Department’s oversight of the review and approval of oil spill response plans and recommended the Secretary of Transportation conduct an audit to address these concerns. 

Purpose and Results of the OSRP Review

The report presents the findings from an audit of OSRP program’s business practices, including review of response plans and response plan exercise programs, and examined whether sufficient resources have been allocated to meet the delegated requirements of OPA 90. Business practices were defined in the report as the programmatic activities that execute OPA 90 requirements through the implementation and enforcement of Part 194. The findings and recommendations resulting from the audit reflect the status of the OSRP Program as of fall 2013.

The audit found that the program’s 2013 criteria for reviewing and approving response plans generally reflected the response plan regulatory requirements contained in Part 194. However, adding clarity and specific to some of the regulatory requirements could improve the response plan requirements, and would improve the subsequent review criteria.

Response plan exercises test whether the planned response can mitigate a large unintentional release of oil. While the use of response plan exercises by the program is a programmatic choice, the audit found limited use of response plan exercises to assess response plan operability. PHMSA could provide further information to operators about the practical effectiveness of response plans if it increased its involvement in response plan exercises. The report also identified programmatic choices and opportunity areas that could increase the effectiveness of the program by further integrating the review and approval process with other OPS activities and subject matter experts.

Efforts Underway to Effect Continuous Improvement in Pipeline Safety

Since the NTSB report was released, additional resources were added to the pipeline program to ensure OPS’s ability to meet its OPA 90 requirement to review and approve facility response plans for pipelines. By sufficiently staffing the program, the audit found that sufficient resources were allocated to ensure that PHMSA’s onshore pipeline facility response plan program meets all of the requirements of OPA 90. The program has taken numerous steps over the past several years to improve and standardize its OSRP program, including implementing policy and review criteria changes that achieve similar outcomes as some suggested regulatory changes, taking a more proactive role in oil spill planning and response activities with the National Response Team and the National Preparedness for Response Exercise Program (PREP) Guidelines, and hosted a public workshop on response planning best practices. PHMSA is evaluating the benefits and costs of changing Part 194.

Updated: Wednesday, December 19, 2018
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