PHMSA Pipeline Safety Enforcement Update – 2016 Q1

So far in 2016, PHMSA has:

  • initiated 16 new cases and issued 8 warnings
  • closed 30 existing cases.

For comparison, here’s a snapshot of PHMSA case initiations and closures annually since 2002. Highest case counts are shaded in yellow.

PHMSA cases initiated 2002-2016

CAO – Corrective Action Order     NOPV – Notice of Probable Violation
NOA – Notice of Amendment        W – Warning Letter
NOPSO – Notice of Proposed Safety Order
See the Case type legend  below for a description of each case type.

PHMSA cases closed 2002-2016

Case type legend

Corrective Action Orders: PHMSA may initiate a CAO case if it determines that a particular pipeline represents a serious hazard to life, property, or the environment. They usually address urgent situations arising out of an accident, spill, or other significant, immediate, or imminent safety or environmental concern. In a CAO case, PHMSA identifies actions that must be taken by the operator to assure safe operation. These actions may include the shutdown of a pipeline or operation at reduced pressure, physical inspection or testing of the pipeline, repair or replacement of defective pipeline segments, and similar measures. If PHMSA believes the conditions for a CAO case exist, but the Order does not need to be issued expeditiously to prevent likely serious harm to life, property or the environment, the Operator will be given reasonable notice and an opportunity for a hearing before an actual CAO is issued. In these situations, a Notice of Proposed Corrective Action Order is issued to the operator. Because of this, there is a difference between the number of CAO cases initiated and actual number of orders issued. This table shows CAO cases opened, not the number of actual orders issued. Corrective Action Orders are described in 49 CFR 190.233.

Notices of Probable Violation: NOPVs are commonly used as an enforcement tool. After routine inspections, incident investigations, or other oversight activity by authorized Federal or Interstate Agent pipeline inspectors, the PHMSA Regional Director will determine if probable violations have occurred, and, if appropriate, issue an NOPV to the operator. The NOPV alleges specific regulatory violations and, where applicable, proposes appropriate corrective action in a Compliance Order and/or civil penalties. The operator has a right to respond to the NOPV and to request an administrative hearing. The administrative enforcement procedures and other regulations governing the enforcement program are described in 49 CFR 190 Subpart B “Enforcement.”

Notices of Amendment: PHMSA inspections, incident investigations, and other oversight activities routinely identify shortcomings in an operator’s plans and procedures under PHMSA regulations. In these situations, PHMSA issues an NOA letter alleging that the operator’s plans and procedures are inadequate and requiring that they be amended. The operator has a right to respond to the NOA and to request an administrative hearing. Notices of Amendment and the procedures for their issuance and enforcement are described in 49 CFR 190.237.

Warning Letters: For some probable violations (often lower risk), PHMSA has the option of issuing a Warning Letter notifying the operator of alleged violations and directing it to correct them or be subject to further enforcement action. PHMSA then follows up on these items during subsequent inspections or through other interactions with the operator. Warning Letters are described in 49 CFR 190.205.

Notice of Proposed Safety Order: PHMSA may issue a NOPSO to notify an operator that a particular pipeline facility has a condition or conditions that pose a pipeline integrity risk to public safety, property, or the environment. An NOPSO addresses pipeline integrity risks that may not constitute a hazardous facility requiring immediate corrective action (see Corrective Action Order described above), but do need to be addressed over time. The NOPSO proposes measures the operator must take to address the identified risk. These can include inspection, testing, repair, or other appropriate actions to remedy the identified risk condition. Notices of Proposed Safety Order are described in 49 CFR 190.239. The 2006 Pipeline Inspection, Protection, Enforcement, and Safety Act gave PHMSA the authority to issue Safety Orders, and a final rule was published on January 16, 2009. Training in the use of this new tool was completed in June 2010.

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This information is brought to you by ViaData, the publishers of WinDOT, The Pipeline Safety Encyclopedia.

Let WinDOT be your online source for pipeline safety information: we offer the complete set of Federal pipeline safety regulations from 49 CFR, PHMSA safety notices and enforcement actions, NTSB safety investigation reports, state regulations, as well as pertinent standards from AGA, API, ASME, NACE and NFPA. All online in an easy to use format. Contact us for more info today!

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