PHMSA abnormal vs. accident

Apparently an actual fire or explosion may (or may not) count as an accident according to PHMSA, but there’s a huge gap in PHMSA’s definitions: they don’t seem to say they apply to methane. And guess whose Public Awareness Program PHMSA requires pipeline operators to follow?

According to PHMSA’s Glossary and Definitions,


A release of the hazardous liquid or carbon dioxide transported that results in any of the following:
  1. explosion or fire not intentionally set by the operator.
  2. release of 5 gallons (19 liters) or more of hazardous liquid or carbon dioxide, except that no report is required for a release of less than 5 barrels (0.8 cubic meters) resulting from a pipeline maintenance activity if the release is:
    1. not otherwise reportable under this section;
    2. not one described in Sec 195.52(a)(4);
    3. confined to company property or pipeline right-of-way; and
    4. cleaned up promptly
  3. Death of any person;
  4. personal injury necessitating hospitalization;
  5. estimated property damage, including cost of clean-up and recovery, value of lost product, and damage to the property of the operator or others, or both, exceeding $50,000.
Source: §195.5

So the Oregon Live story had it right as far as a leak with no explosion or fire, but for an explosion or fire there’s an extra condition (a). Although even for (a), if the operator set the explosion or fire, it doesn’t count. So where’s PHMSA about that Williams fire and explosion near Plymouth, WA 2014-03-31 and that Williams Oak Grove explosion in Marshall County, WV 2014-04-05, and that Williams explosion and fire, Opal, WY 2014-04-23? None of those four 2014 Williams incidents seem to be on Safety Advisory Notices.

Also (e) includes cost of clean-up and recover and damage to the property of others in that $50,000. But it doesn’t include personal costs of evacuation or of emergency services.

But wait, “A release of the hazardous liquid or carbon dioxide transported”? What about non-liquid methane?

This PHMSA page does say “gas”, Safety-Related Conditions vs. Abnormal Operating Conditions, but it doesnt even use the term “accident”, and it references other sections than the one that defines PHMSA’s definition of accident:

Safety-Related Conditions vs. Abnormal Operating Conditions

Question: What is the relationship between pre-OQ Rule “safety-related conditions” and “Abnormal Operating Conditions” as addressed by the OQ Rule?

Answer: Under the gas pipeline safety rules, safety-related conditions are defined in §191.25. The conditions addressed therein should be included within the list of AOCs that each operator is required to identify under §192.803. Note that the expected “reactions” may differ from those associated with other AOCs, in that there are certain actions that must be taken following determination that a safety-related condition exists. Thus, the expected reaction would include beginning the process needed to ensure that the existence of the recognized “potential” safetyrelated condition is relayed to the person who is charged with determining whether or not the condition is reportable (if it exists in certain locations, and/or if it is not corrected within the appropriate time frame).

Also note that the list of AOCs is not subject to application of the 4-part test, as is the list of “covered tasks”. Thus, this set of AOCs (being located outside of Part 192) does not represent a conflict with the OQ Rule. Furthermore, §192.605(d) clearly requires that personnel who perform operating and maintenance activities must receive instructions enabling them to recognize conditions that could potentially be safety-related conditions.

In the case of “abnormal operations”, the list of circumstances contained in §192.605(c) should be reviewed to determine which of them also fit the definition of AOC in the OQ Rule. Clearly, there are deviations (increases and decreases) in pressure or flow rate that are “outside of normal operating limits”, but do not exceed design limits or pose a hazard to persons, property or the environment. However, unintended closure of valves, or unintended shutdowns of systems, operation of safety devices (such as overpressure protection devices) or loss of communications clearly could represent the existence of such conditions and should also be included within the operators list of AOCs.

Parallel arguments may be made for the hazardous liquids pipeline safety rules. Similar requirements exist, with the main difference being that safety-related conditions are contained within Part 195 (at §195.55 and .56) and not within another Part, as is the case of the gas pipeline safety rules. §195.402(d) provides requirements similar to those for §192.605(c) and the same arguments for and against including certain elements within a list of AOCs apply.

Well, I hope that cleared everything up!

If not, the OQ Rule is the Operator Qualification Rule, according to PHMSA’s 1 April 2004 OQ Guide for Small Distribution Systems, which guide says it has “A list of definitions which may be helpful in understanding the OQ Rule”. Oh, wait, that’s Chapter II, which has the same definition of accident already quoted!

Where could we find more information? PHMSA’s Public Awareness page says:

We recommend you have a copy of American Petroleum Institute Recommended Practice 1162, Public Awareness Programs for Pipeline Operators available for reference during this training. You can download a non-printable .pdf at the official API web-site

Really? The federal safety agency for pipelines refers to a pipeline industry document for its own training?

Yep. And it’s not just advice, it’s a requirement for pipeline operators. PHMSA’s Public Awareness Programs: API RP 1162,

Federal pipeline safety regulations (49 CFR 192.616 and 49 CFR 195.440) require pipeline operators to develop and implement public awareness programs that follow the guidance provided by the American Petroleum Institute (API) Recommended Practice (RP) 1162, “Public Awareness Programs for Pipeline Operators” (incorporated by reference in federal regulations).

API RP 1162 is an industry consensus standard that provides guidance and recommendations to pipeline operators for the development and implementation of enhanced public awareness programs. It addresses various elements of such programs, including the intended audiences, the kinds of information to be communicated, frequencies and methodologies for communicating the information, and evaluation of the programs for effectiveness. The American Petroleum Institute provides a nonprintable electronic copy of the incorporated AP RP 1162.

We have provided summary tables of the API RP 1162 program recommendations for review and downloading: More…

I see no definition in that API document of accident or of abnormal operations. However, it does say:

Public Awareness Programs will also help the public understand that while pipeline accidents are possible, pipelines are a relatively safe mode of transportation, that pipeline operators undertake a variety of measures to prevent pipeline accidents, and that pipeline operators anticipate and plan for management of accidents if they occur.

So PHMSA requires pipeline operators to put out fossil fuel industry propaganda that says pipelines are safe. Well, we can all rest easy now!


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