PHMSA and Information Sharing: The Road Ahead

Upcoming changes at PHMSA may improve information sharing for pipeline safety stakeholders.


At the 2013 Pipeline Pigging and Integrity Management Conference in Houston, Michael Rosenfeld (Kiefner & Assoc.) and Robert Fassett (Kleinfelder) presented a paper on pipeline ruptures that included the following observations on the usability of PHMSA’s incident data:

The reportable incident database does not provide data and incident investigation material that is accessible or visible enough to be used to see paradigm breaking trends that could identify new threats or interacting threats.

Sometimes during the investigation of a pipeline incident, PHMSA requires an operator to hire a third-party expert to perform the forensic engineering investigation for PHMSA’s review and inclusion with their investigation. During the research used to write this paper it was discovered that in order for the public to access such a report one must request it from PHMSA through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), or request it in writing from a state pipeline safety regulator. Important information that pipeline operators may need to learn from other pipeline operators’ experiences for the purpose of strengthening their integrity management programs is not readily visible.

Upcoming changes at PHMSA may provide a remedy as the agency seeks to continue a decade-long trend of standardizing and sharing information. And it is not only other operators who have an interest in looking at this data. State agencies and inspectors, other industry stakeholders (like developers of inspection systems and corrosion prevention technologies), research institutions and safety advocacy groups could all benefit.

In her written statement on March 1, 2016 before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Energy and Power Hearing on Examining Pipeline Safety Reauthorization, the Honorable Marie Therese Dominguez PHMSA Administrator wrote that PHMSA will:

… establish a pipeline Accident Investigations Division to investigate incidents and share lessons learned with all stakeholders to improve safety. PHMSA is in the process of finalizing the new Accident Investigation Division framework and resource construct, and anticipates initial stand-up later this year. The division will strengthen our capacity and focus on root cause investigations for all significant pipeline incidents and accidents; identify lessons learned and evaluate safety data for emerging trends; bring consistency to safety investigations; and enhance PHMSA’s training program for federal and state inspectors.

The Pipes Act of 2016, currently awaiting the signature of the President, also touches on the theme of information sharing by mandating the formation of a working group to “consider the development of a voluntary information-sharing system to encourage collaborative efforts to improve inspection information feedback and information sharing with the purpose of improving gas transmission and hazardous liquid pipeline facility integrity risk analysis.”

Within a year of its enactment, the act also requires the Secretary of Transportation to submit a report on the “feasibility of establishing a national integrated pipeline safety regulatory inspection database to improve communication and collaboration between the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and State pipeline regulators.”

This increased information sharing will help all who have a stake in learning from the past to make a safer future.

At ViaData, we’re all about pipeline safety. Visit our website to see how we can help you keep abreast of all the latest federal and state regulations, investigations and enforcement actions.

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