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US partly delays gas storage safety rule

19 Jun 2017 20:24 (+01:00 GMT)
US partly delays gas storage safety rule

Washington, 19 June (Argus) — The US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), responding to industry complaints, said it would not enforce some safety regulations targeting underground natural gas storage facilities.

The rules, which were finalized in 2016, were designed to avoid incidents such as a leak from the Aliso Canyon facility in California that released 4.6 Bcf (130mn m3) of natural gas over four months until it was sealed early last year.

The regulations were based almost entirely on consensus standards written by industry group the American Petroleum Institute (API) and applied to 400 underground gas storage facilities in the US. But critics said that PHMSA's requirement for facilities to comply with parts of the safety regulations by 18 January 2018 was too aggressive and should be delayed.

Another complaint focused on PHMSA's decision to convert parts of API standards that were discretionary guidelines into binding regulations, a change industry groups say is not always feasible. API, the American Gas Association and other industry groups this year petitioned the agency to reconsider this and other parts of the regulations.

PHMSA, in a notice released today, agreed not to issue enforcement citations for parts of the regulations that were initially "non-mandatory" guidelines. This delay will remain for at least a year after the agency issues a rule that will respond to industry concerns with the regulations. PHMSA expects that rule will be complete in January 2018.

But the agency says it will enforce other parts of the rule, including a requirement for storage facility operators to write policies and procedures to implement the remaining parts of the API standards by 18 January 2018.

Texas attorney general Ken Paxton in March filed a lawsuit asking a court to throw out PHMSA's regulations. The American Gas Association and the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, which represents natural gas pipeline companies, have separately filed their own lawsuits challenging the regulations.