May 2020 Vol. 75 No. 5

Washington Watch

PHMSA Allowing Enforcement Flexibility During Coronavirus Pandemic

By Stephen Barlas, Washington Editor

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is giving enforcement latitude to pipeline operators during the coronavirus pandemic. That flexibility extends to state pipeline safety program managers, pipeline operators and operators of gas storage and liquefied natural gas facilities.

Three specific regulations are targeted for eased enforcement oversight:

The first is a requirement that workers doing operation or maintenance activities are either qualified under the operator’s written OQ program or have demonstrated capability to perform assigned functions.

The second covers controllers working in control rooms, where certain hours-of-service, specialized training programs come into play.

The third element relaxes pre-employment and random drug testing for workers who perform certain activities, known as “covered functions.”

Although PHMSA highlighted those three areas in its guidance, it noted that there may be other regulatory requirements that pose compliance challenges. Pipelines should “document” those issues and communicate promptly with the PHMSA about those concerns.

The agency added: “PHMSA will exercise discretion in its overall enforcement of other parts of the pipeline safety regulations with the intent of providing operators with the flexibility to maintain normal operations while ensuring public safety and protection of the environment.”

For intrastate operators regulated by state authorities, PHMSA will not object to waivers, special permits, stays of enforcement or similar measures granted by state authorities for noncompliance due to COVID-19, where state regulations are equivalent to the federal regulations.

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