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Pipes Can Operate at Higher MAOP under New DOT Rule

The Department of Transportation (DOT) has issued a final rule that will allow certain natural gas pipelines to operate at higher maximum allowable operating pressures (MAOP) than those permitted under existing pipeline safety regulations. Pipeline operators will no longer have to apply for special permits to operate at higher pressures, as is currently required.

Citing the improvements in steel pipe manufacturing and metallurgy, as well as the implementation of integrity management practices, the DOT's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) "has concluded that certain gas transmission pipelines can be operated safely and reliably at pressures that exceed current federal pipeline safety design limits, and that allowing operation at higher pressures will increase energy capacity and efficiency without compromising safety," wrote the Washington, DC-based law firm of Van Ness Feldman in a review of the rule.

The PHMSA estimates that approximately 3,500 miles of existing gas pipelines will be uprated to an alternative MAOP, according Van Ness Feldman. "With demand for natural gas forecast to increase, and as domestic gas production continues to proliferate, new infrastructure to transport gas to markets will likely be necessary, and the final rule's impact could be far-reaching. In fact, PHMSA estimates that about 700 miles of new pipeline each year will use a higher MAOP."

A natural gas pipeline has to meet several conditions to qualify for a higher MAOP, including:

The rule said pipelines not qualifying for a higher MAOP would be:

If a pipeline opts to operate at a higher MAOP, the final rules requires that an operator notify the PHMSA pipeline safety regional office of its intent at least 180 days before operating at the MAOP; alert state pipeline safety officials if the pipeline is located in a state where the PHMSA has an interstate agent agreement or an intrastate pipeline is regulated by the state; submit (no later than 30 days before operating at higher MAOP) to each regional PHMSA pipeline safety office a certification, signed by a senior executive officer of the firm, attesting to the fact that the pipeline meets the specified conditions.

The final rule takes effect Nov. 17.

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