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Issue Summaries

 DOT Operator Qualification 

Background

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a final operator qualification (OQ) rule in August 1999 that was the result of negotiation among federal pipeline safety officials, AGA and allied natural gas industry representatives and others. The rule gave operators until October 26, 2002, to qualify the workforce performing covered tasks during pipeline operations and maintenance. This effort was successfully completed.
 
The Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 directed DOT to put in place standards and criteria to evaluate such programs, and issue a report to Congress. To comply with the law, AGA and other pipeline industry representatives worked with state and federal regulators to develop “audit protocols,” inspection forms, and compliance materials to facilitate the implementation of an operator-qualified (OQ) program. Much of this work product is on the PHMSA Operator Qualification web site (http://www.phmsa.dot.gov). Stakeholders also developed computer-based tracking, software and other technology to support a national infrastructure for operator qualification programs.

The DOT report to Congress concluded that:

  • Operators showed a strong willingness to quickly address inspection findings and improve their OQ programs.
  • Events attributable to human error and to operator excavation damage have been on a downward trend over the last five years.  Because the number of such events is small, and because operator programs continue to mature, it is too soon to attribute these trends with great certainty to the OQ program.

AGA expects DOT to make minor modifications to the OQ regulation. The national trade associations representing pipelines support adding requirements for training, when appropriate, and a five-year maximum requalification interval. The trade associations do not endorse including new construction in the OQ program, but note that many AGA member companies have voluntarily included new construction in the OQ programs.

The “Pipeline Inspection, Protection, Enforcement and Safety Act of 2006” required DOT to issue regulations to address fatigue and other human factors for pipeline controllers by June 1, 2008. DOT formally proposed the Control Room Management rule in September 2008.

Industry provided DOT with input at all opportunities provided during the development of the proposed Control Room Management rule.  Industry supported studies conducted by the DOT on controller certification and control room management practices.  Industry also provided extensive feedback at two public meetings to impress upon the DOT the need for a proposed rule that was high-level.  The proposed rule was overly broad, excessively prescriptive and imposed uniform requirements on all pipeline operators, including LNG operations.  The regulatory cost analysis submitted by the DOT was erroneous and grossly underestimated the costs operators would incur.  The proposed rule required annual perform point to point assessments to be done on the entire operating system, placing an undue fiscal burden on operators with negligible improvements in pipeline safety.  The alarm management requirements were too detailed and the controller qualification language was inconsistent with existing OQ requirements.  AGA worked with the other national pipeline trade associations to voice industry’s significant concerns to the DOT.  AGA and the other national pipeline trade associations crafted alternate language to meet the Congressional mandate, the concerns stated by the NTSB and the findings of the studies completed by the DOT.

AGA held a workshop in October 2008 for industry to voice concerns regarding the proposed rule to the DOT.  AGA submitted its comments on the proposed rule in November 2008.  The Technical Pipeline Safety Standards Committee (TPSSC) met in December 2008.  During the December meeting the TPSSC voted in support of the alternate language industry submitted.  AGA expects the final rule to be released in late 2009.
 

AGA Viewpoint

 Implementing the OQ regulations has helped natural gas utilities, contractors, and service providers create an infrastructure to further ensure that they maintain a qualified workforce. AGA estimates that more than 1 million qualification records now exist and are being continually updated. AGA supports minor modifications to the regulation, but DOT should avoid substantial changes to a program that has proven to be effective.

AGA will provide support to the GPTC as guidance documents are developed.  AGA will provide assistance as members begin to prepare for the final CRM rule.  AGA will organize educational forums in 2008 to inform members the work that industry is doing to address the final CRM regulation.


AGA Contact: Phil Bennett, pbennett@aga.org

 
 

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