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Congress Passes Three Year Reauthorization of PHMSA

In December the Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety (PIPES)
Act of 2020
was signed into law as part of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 Spending/ COVID Stimulus package.

The PIPES Act reauthorizes the Pipeline Safety and Hazardous Materials Administration (PHMSA) through FY 2023 and contains a number of provisions that improve pipeline safety. Some highlights of the PIPES Act include:

  • Reauthorizes PHMSA Emergency Response Grants at $10 million annually through FY 2023. Congress appropriated $3 million for this program for FY 2021 elsewhere in the Spending/COVID Stimulus package.
  • Establishes a new pilot program that allows limited safety-enhancing testing for innovative technologies and operational practices directly in the field at natural gas pipeline facilities or hazardous liquid pipeline facilities.
  • Establishes a new “idled” pipeline status for pipelines that have ceased normal operations and are empty or contain a non-hazardous amount of products for 180 days or more.
  • Requires the Secretary of Transportation to issue regulations on pipeline safety requirements to idled pipelines. These requirements include:
  • Updates the minimum operating and maintenance standards for Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) facilities to create a risk-based regulatory approach.
  • Establishes the LNG Center of Excellence to promote U.S. leadership and expertise in LNG operations by serving as a repository for best practices, increasing communications and collaboration between LNG experts (including safety organizations), and supporting state-of-the-art LNG operational practices.
  • Updates pipeline leak detection and repair regulations for gas pipelines to account for advanced leak detection technologies and practices.
  • Updates regulations to require gas pipeline operators’ inspection and maintenance plans to further account for leak detection and repair.
  • Directs PHMSA to complete its determination on the need for updated pipeline class location regulations in order to promote effective, efficient safety management.
  • Requires the National Academy of Sciences to study methodologies or standards for installation of remote-control valves (RCVs) or automatic shutoff valves (ASVs) for gas pipelines in high consequence areas and hazardous liquid pipelines in commercially navigable waterways and unusually sensitive areas.
  • Increases information sharing by pipeline operators with states, tribes, local governments, and first responders on safety-related conditions that cause a significant change in pipeline facility operations, or pose a hazard to life, property, or the environment.
  • Directs PHMSA to issue regulations for distribution pipeline systems requiring each system’s integrity management plan to include an evaluation of the risks from low-pressure systems and cast-iron pipelines. Directs these updated plans to be shared with PHMSA or relevant state authorities.
  • Directs PHMSA to issue regulations mandating that state authorities have a sufficient number of pipeline inspectors to ensure safe operations.
  • Requires distribution system operators’ emergency response plans to include written procedures on: notifying first responders as soon as possible during a gas pipeline emergency, establishing communications with the general public about an emergency and developing a voluntary opt-in system for sharing emergency information with customers.
  • Directs PHMSA to issue regulations to ensure manuals for operations, maintenance, and emergencies contain procedures for responding to an over pressurization incident.
  • Directs PHMSA to issue regulations for distribution pipeline system operators to identify and manage records critical to ensuring proper pressure controls for a gas distribution system and that these records are accessible to personnel overseeing construction or engineering work and are made available for inspection to PHMSA or relevant State authorities. 


Ryan Woodward is a government relations manager with the IAFC

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