Sunday, September 04, 2016

Smart Polices to Stop Disastrous Natural Gas Leaks

Infrared footage reveals massive methane emissions from a gas storage facility in California’s Aliso Canyon (Credit: EPA) Click to Enlarge.
California, Feds Eye Tough New Rules
In July, California’s Department of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) proposed new regulations to modernize the way gas storage wells are designed, constructed, tested, maintained and operated.  The proposal is strong in many ways, squarely addressing many of the key issues related to maintaining integrity and preventing gas leakage.

As noted in EDF’s public comments, with a few key improvements these rules could be some of the strongest in the nation.

But California regulators aren’t the only ones developing new policies to prevent another disaster.  Spurred largely by Aliso Canyon, the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which traditionally limited its gas regulation to pipelines, has launched a rule making that could impact hundreds of gas storage facilities across the country.

“Consensus Standards” May Fall Short
PHMSA action could be very good news.  The question is whether the regulations are strong – and whether they act as a floor, rather than a ceiling, for state oversight.  The agency’s evident approach is to adopt the industry “consensus standards” embodied in guidance documents from the American Petroleum Institute.  This could pose a problem; the standards themselves caution that they are “intended to supplement, but not replace, applicable local, state, and federal regulations.”

Not only is PHMSA crafting regulations based on industry guidelines that were never meant to serve that purpose, but the agency is also doing it on an extremely fast timetable with minimal public input.  Stakeholders (including industry, the public, and even the states that will co-regulate this activity) will apparently not have a chance to respond to the rules until after they have the force of law.

Getting the Rules Right
Here are some key issues that PHMSA should get right from the start.
  • Coordination between state and federal regulators
  • Missing pieces
  • Manage Risk
  • Equal protections for equal threats
  • Leaving a Legacy
Read more at Smart Polices to Stop Disastrous Natural Gas Leaks

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