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Colorado PUC to Update Rules for Gas Utilities, Pipelines

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) on Friday issued a notice of proposed rulemaking aimed at updating its rules covering natural gas pipeline operations to bring them in line with federal safety requirements. The PUC proposal would amend the state's current pipeline safety rules, but a commission spokesperson said the changes were not prompted by the recent pipeline accidents in North America.

Amended state rules will be published May 10 in the Colorado Register, and a hearing will be held June 28 in Denver before a PUC administrative law judge.

These are somewhat routine changes and are not related to the national effort now ongoing to address pipeline safety mitigation programs in the wake of the Sept. 9 transmission pipeline rupture in San Bruno, CA, and several subsequent incidents in the northeast U.S. and Canada.

"Those incidents are still under investigation, and there are no specific changes [in federal regulations] that have come from those incidents yet, but there were some other changes that the federal Department of Transportation had adopted, and our rules had not yet incorporated those," a Denver-based PUC spokesperson told NGI on Monday. "For the most part, I think these are pretty minor issues, covering reporting requirements for waivers, changes in definitions and more routine matters."

Part of the PUC's changes would update the emergency waiver procedures to make the state's requirements parallel regulations issued earlier by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which has been issuing various notices for review and public discussion of pipeline integrity management programs since the San Bruno incident (see Daily GPI, Jan. 5).

In addition to the directives specifically related to the San Bruno case, federal DOT officials early this year directed PHMSA to "expeditiously" get the word out to the pipeline industry about the circumstances surrounding the San Bruno explosion and investigative findings so far "so pipeline operators can proactively implement any corrective measures." No formal changes in rules have been made as yet, the PUC spokesperson emphasized.

One part of the proposed changes in Colorado touch on an area of continuing focus post-San Bruno -- ongoing inspections and testing of transmission pipelines, particularly in heavily populated areas, under the operator's integrity management programs. Language is included dealing with pipeline operators requesting to deviate from or reduce the frequency of periodic inspections and tests "on the basis of an engineering analysis and risk assessment."

The proposed new language said deviation on inspections and testing can be granted only if the alternative frequency "is not inconsistent" with pipeline safety. "An operator may implement an approved reduction in the frequency of a periodic inspection or test only where the operator has developed and implemented an integrity management program that provides an equal or improved overall level of safety despite the reduced frequency of periodic inspections," the proposed new rule language said.

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