The U.S. energy pipeline sector’s oil contingent is expressing concerns about the studies used by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to develop new safety requirements for natural gas pipelines.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Association of Oil Pipe Lines (AOPL) warned in a joint letter to PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman that the agency may have relied on “flawed studies” on leak detection and automatic/remote-controlled valves in a submittal to Congress.

PHMSA’s recent filing on Capitol Hill was required by the 2011 Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act calling for reports on pipeline leak detection systems and the auto valves. API and AOPL expressed concerns about possible flawed studies that may divert federal spending from safety and environmental protections.

Separately, the Government Accounting Office issued a report days ago that concluded pipeline automatic shutoff valves were not required in all cases (see Daily GPI, Jan. 24).

In 2011, pipeline operators reported spending $1.1 billion on integrity management programs assessing, inspecting and maintaining their lines, the oil associations said. Pipeline operators already are using “a host of strategies and technologies to prevent, detect and minimize leaks and ruptures.”

Law firm VanNess Feldman said the industry groups were indicating that “PHMSA would need to determine the feasibility and potential costs and benefits of new leak detection and valve requirements.”

Last fall pipeline operators informed PHMSA of their “deep concerns” related to draft studies that were being circulated for comment. The pipelines have stressed that any new requirements based on the questionable studies would be compromised.

As an example, the API/AOPL letter cited operators’ current use of existing leak detection systems, particularly “internal methods of measuring flow and volume to detect potential leaks and ruptures.” They contend that “more experimental” external detection technologies “so far have proven unreliable and expensive.” The studies lack “real-world operational experience” regarding reliability and cost concerns.

“Regrettably, the final leak detection and valve reports make no substantial improvements to the fundamental flaws in the drafts,” said API’s Peter Lidiak and AOPL’s Andrew Black.

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