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DOT Issues Rules to Enhance Pipeline Safety

December 7, 2009
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The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a rule last week extending requirements for pipeline integrity management programs, including excess flow valves, to natural gas distribution lines. Another new rule calls for strengthened management and oversight of control room operations for all types of DOT-regulated pipelines carrying natural gas or hazardous liquids.

DOT's Pipelines Hazardous Materials Safety Administration will administer the rule, which extends the same basic principles of integrity management now required of large interstate pipelines to distribution company lines. The rule does accommodate the significant differences between the large pipelines and the smaller distribution lines.

Integrity management programs combine periodic inspection and testing of a pipeline's condition with continuous management processes to collect, integrate, analyze and apply information about possible threats. In addition, the rule requires distribution operators to install excess flow valves in new and replaced services for single-family residences where conditions are suitable for their use. Unlike requirements for transmission pipelines, which are limited to "high-consequence areas," the new distribution integrity management rules will be applied to an operator's entire system.

The new control room management rule requires pipeline operators to establish human factors management plans and to account for National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendations on supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system displays, alarm systems and controller training. In addition, operators must establish maximum hours-of-service limits and integrate these procedures into existing operation and maintenance, operator qualifications and emergency processes.

Hazardous liquid and gas pipelines are often monitored in a control room through computer-based equipment, such as a SCADA system, that records and displays operational information about the pipeline system, such as pressures, flow rates and valve positions. These monitoring and control actions are a principal means of managing pipeline operations. The new control room management requirements are intended to reduce risk through providing more effective control of pipelines.

DOT developed the rules in cooperation with Congress, the NTSB and the pipeline industry. The control room management rule was published in the Dec. 3 Federal Register, and the distribution integrity management rule was published Friday.

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