Natural Gas Compressor Stations – Does PHMSA regulate?

Question of the week

 We got a message through the Pipeline Safety Trust Facebook page (find us and like us there!) with some questions from Howard, who was trying to find some information about the regulation of compressor stations on interstate natural gas pipelines, like the one being proposed near his New England community. He had heard two distinctly different stories: one that compressor stations are “self-regulating”, which is to say not regulated at all; the other was that the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Administration (PHMSA of the US Department of Transportation) regulates them, but the details about exactly what that meant were a bit fuzzy.

Here’s what we told Howard, plus a few more tidbits:

Hi Howard – Compressor stations like the ones on the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline are regulated by PHMSA. Compressor stations are included in the regulatory definition of “pipeline facility” in the PHMSA regulations governing gas transmission lines (49 CFR Part 192). Specifically, that definition is found in 49 CFR 192.5. Compressor stations are specifically called out in several regulations governing design, emergency exits and shutdown, fencing, ventilation, etc. Those specific regs can be found at 49 CFR 192.163, .165, .167, .169, .171, and .173. Compressor stations may also be subject to air quality regulation under the Clean Air Act, requiring a separate permitting process, but that permit is usually dealt with in the context of the FERC certification proceedings, sometimes as a condition on the granting of the certificate. Compressor stations that are not part of an interstate transmission line subject to siting by FERC may also be subject to zoning and permitting by local governments, and to safety inspections by a state if it has been certified to regulate intrastate natural gas facilities.  

PHMSA decides how often to inspect operators and for what purpose. For example, sometimes inspections throughout a region would focus on operator qualification requirements or control room management rules, and PHMSA will check all of the operators in the region for those specific topics. Other times inspections are a more wide-ranging inspection of individual operators or facilities, checking records and the facility for compliance with a wide variety of safety regulations. I’d suggest that for more information on how PHMSA schedules the inspections of facilities and how often they check a specific individual facility, you contact a Community and Technical Assistance (CATS) staff person in the regional office of PHMSA nearest you. You can find contact information for them here. You can also find a flowchart generally describing the inspection and enforcement process here. Records from enforcement actions resulting from previous inspections are included in the PHMSA reports on enforcement actions, but they are mixed in with those relating to incidents, so finding them requires a bit of searching.

Hope that helps. 

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