Impact of Tightening PHMSA Regulations on US Gas Pipeline Operations Podcast

by , | Mar 25, 2024 | Control & Safety Systems, Industrial Software

Jim Cahill

Jim Cahill

Chief Blogger, Social Marketing Leader

The United StatesEnergy Logistics Podcast Series Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) released the final rule from a three-part series known as the “Mega Rule.”

In this podcast, Phani Kanakamedala joins me to discuss the rule’s impact on gas pipeline transporters. He highlights the challenges and the role of automation technology in addressing these regulations while improving overall pipeline performance.

Give the podcast a listen and visit the Software for Energy Transportation & Storage on for more information on the advanced pipeline management software to meet these regulatory requirements and operate more safely and efficiently.


Jim: Hi everyone. I’m Jim Cahill with another “Emerson Automation Experts” podcast. The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA’s mission is to protect people and the environment by advancing the safe transportation of energy and other hazardous materials that are essential to our daily lives. Today, I’m joined by Emerson’s Phani-Kanakamedala, and we’ll be discussing PHMSA’s Mega Rule, which comes in three parts concerning pipeline safety regulations for gas gathering, and gas transmission pipelines. Welcome, Phani.

Phani: Hi, Jim. And thank you for the introduction. And happy to be here.

Jim: Well, it’s great having you here. So, let’s jump into things by asking you to share with our listeners your background and path to your current role here at Emerson.

Phani: Sure. Like Jim said, I’m part of Emerson’s automation solutions group, and I’m a product manager in our midstream pipeline simulation offering, software offerings. My background is I’m a computer science engineer with both a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Computer Science. Specialization is in software development applications. I joined Emerson in 2008. And I think in a couple of days, it’s gonna be my 16th anniversary with Emerson. And all these 16 years I’ve been associated with pipeline simulation software. And for about 10 years of these 16 years, I was a software developer; actually, in the last six years or so, I’ve been a product manager working with our stakeholders, industry experts, and customers closely in terms of serving the pipeline industry here.

Jim: Well, that’s great. Sixteen years. Doesn’t time really fly? And that nice background on both the technology side of it and then on the marketing and customer interaction roles. So, that’s a nice, broad, and varied background, it should be really good for our conversation here. So, can you provide some insights into the pipeline incidents, you know, that may have led up to this Mega Rule that we’re talking about? And I’m thinking of things such as the Pacific Gas and Electric Company rupture in San Bruno in 2010. And I guess all this is a trigger for the Mega Rule.

Phani: Absolutely, Jim. It’s always a good context to discuss what started all of this and then to understand the motivation. And so, as you will hear in the podcast, you’ll see that some of the motivation of these rulings originated from that event, if you will, and the learnings from that event. So, here we have PG&E, Pacific Gas and Electric pipeline company, it was operating a gas pipeline in San Bruno, California, and there was a huge explosion, you know, and that resulted in killing about eight folks, eight people. And there was a big event, a huge explosion; there was a shockwave coming out of the explosion that was equal to the magnitude of 1.1 earthquake, an earthquake of that magnitude, just a pipeline explosion causing it.

And people could see a Fireball from more than 1000 feet in the air. So, it was a pretty big event and a residential area, the neighborhood just two miles near the explosion, and hence, you know, the casualties in terms of folks and property, etc. So, this was a pretty significant event. I would say this event was one of the prime triggers, if you will of the regulation and also action from Congress, you know, to bring in regulation on pipeline operations and so forth. There is also another event, but it’s more of a lesser extent, it was also a rupture of a crude pipeline, probably, a liquid pipeline. But I think for all intents and purposes, the San Bruno event with the PG&E pipeline was the main trigger.

Jim: Well, it sounds like yeah, that was a really tragic, catastrophic event. So, how did the lessons learned from past pipeline incidents such as this one and others influence the development of the Mega Rule? And I guess starting with the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, or ANPRM, in 2011, and in what ways does it address the specific challenges identified in those incidents?

Phani: Absolutely. So, as you said, you know, in August 2011, you know, because of congressional directives, PHMSA came up with this Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, ANPRM, to revise pipeline safety regulations for gas gathering and gas transmission pipelines. And there were a lot of comments received with this, the rulemaking. And specifically, the rule primarily was concerned about maximum operating pressure, and integrating management near high-consequence areas for onshore gas transmission pipelines.

That was a direct result of what happened with the PG&E event to gas pipeline. And they were operating with operating pressures which exceeded the grade of the pipeline on the parts of the pipeline, you know, to meet their customer demands and the needs if you will. So, that part of that was directly related to the PG&E event with maximum operating pressure. Similarly, integrity management near high-consequence areas, like we just talked about earlier, it was right next to a residential area. Unfortunately, we had casualties. And then so that is where the integrity management in terms of high-consequence areas came out of that as well. And like I said, there was a lot of comments, a lot of feedback, and it kind of initiated the splitting of the rulemaking into three parts, if you will.

Jim: Yes. So, I guess with all these comments coming in from industry on the proposed changes, and I guess, stakeholders involved in that, too, how did that all factor into the finalization of the Mega Rule?

Phani: Absolutely. For any rulemaking, I mean, the feedback process is very important. And that’s usually the standard practice for PHMSA and even any regulation. So, the final regulation was largely a product of negotiations with a diverse group of stakeholders, including industry, citizen groups, and industry trade groups. So, they were not just talking to pipeline operators, but also different stakeholders in terms of reaching a broad acceptance in many quarters.

And some of the… They cannot keep everybody happy, at the same time, they wanted to come up with a balanced rulemaking that would somewhat satisfy most of the stakeholder requirements. And all of these requirements kind of came into effect in 2023, May ’24, especially the phase three of the Mega Rule, but it was definitely a long drawn-out process for sure.

Jim: So, I guess, considering some of these historical incidents, how has the Mega Rule addressed the need for enhanced real-time monitoring within control room applications, I guess, to prevent and respond promptly, to potential leaks and ruptures?

Phani: Yeah. That’s a great question. The Mega Rule kind of addresses different aspects, if you will. There is integrity management with high-consequence areas, there is hardware, you know, the grade of, you know, how good are the pipeline, and what maximum operating pressure can you operate the pipeline with. Should they have valving to control or mitigate ruptures, if you will. And there is also corrosion control, which also could end up with rupture. And there is also change management, in terms of how do they change or repair pipelines, and how do they report that. And so, there were different aspects of these aspects of the Mega Rule and out of which one was also defining rupture detection and asking for compliance with detecting ruptures. And for the first time, PHMSA actually defined rupture in some quantifiable format. It is 10% pressure drop within 15 minutes. So, while the talk about rupture has been there since 2011, finally there was some sort of a metric.

Now, once that KPI was, you know, shared and published as part of the rulemaking, there was also some ambiguity with it. Is the 10% pressure drop in one location? Is it in multiple locations across? And so there was also that ambiguity there as well, where however, I think that is the aspect of the Mega Rule where the pipelines, both gas and liquid, are needed to comply to detecting 10% pressure drops or ruptures within that timeframe. The gas pipelines traditionally, haven’t been regulated that well, that actually…Mega Rule actually brought almost 400,000 miles of unregulated gathering lines and onshore gas lines into the compliance world. Liquid pipelines were traditionally well-regulated. And they usually have the CPM systems. That is where the need for, you know, detection and CPM systems have come into play with the Mega Rule making.

Jim: Yeah. It sounds like you hit on corrosion monitoring, an important part in that. And that really bringing gas pipelines into the fold. So, with the Mega Rule, and its impact on gas pipeline, I guess, how does the Mega Rule impact gas pipelines? And is there any difference in adaption compared to regulations for liquid pipelines?

Phani: Absolutely. I mean, as I was saying earlier, traditionally, crude pipelines were more regulated, there was clear regulation for need of CPMs or, you know, leak detection monitoring systems on, you know, transmission lines, especially if they are going through high-consequence areas, you know, and residential, environmentally sensitive areas, etc., etc. Gas pipelines haven’t been regulated to that extent. So, typically, gas pipelines did not have systems on them to monitor. To an extent, even not enough instrumentation to be able to.

So the liquid pipelines were always well equipped to comply with the Mega Rule. They had better tools in their repertoire, if you will, versus the gas pipelines. And that is where the gas pipelines were kind of brought in front, the regulation was brought in front. And with the PG&E event being gas rupture as well, that is where the Mega Rule is making a significant impact in terms of compliance and regulation.

Jim: So, are the gas pipelines well-equipped? And, I guess what are the next steps for them to be better positioned for the future in compliance with the regulations?

Phani: Absolutely. I mean, that’s a very good question, follow-up question here too because equipment, you know, instrumentation is a very important piece of the puzzle to get any monitoring system working. So, meaning you need real-time instrumentation, which can read and transmit real-time measurements to a SCADA system, DCS system, auto control room where the monitoring applications and systems could leverage that information and provide real-time or near real-time, leak detection, rupture detection, etc.

So, given the nature of the gas pipelines, they are pretty large, nested, and loopy, if you wanna say, and lot of unmetered junctions. So, there’s a lot of activity going on. And also, the nature of the gas pipelines is the pressure changes are quite drastic compared to a liquid pipeline, hence the need of the instrumentation. It’s just not the need of the instrumentation, but also the quality of the instrumentation, the quality and the precision of the instrumentation is also often higher. And traditionally, gas pipelines, even now, to this day, they don’t have that sort of equipment or instrumentation.

So, that would be the first step is for every gas pipeline operator to review their instrumentation and identify where do they lack necessary instrumentation. I even had chats with some of the operators where they know they’re losing containment and it’s just that is something that was not a big concern of theirs, given a small leak was okay, in terms of loss of product or fuel. But in this day and age and going forward, that would definitely be something that they need to analyze, work on, and get instrumentation on for them to be able to have these CPM or real-time monitoring systems being able to work and do their job.

Jim: Yeah. With compressed gas and pressure measurement it’s very important to be able to spot, you know, where you may have leaks or worse, ruptures to really get rid of that. So, I guess the Emerson software solutions beyond just the measurements for leak detection, that are widely used by the industry. Can you describe the PipelineManager Suite? I know we have a broad portfolio of solutions that address these needs.

Phani: Absolutely. Like I said, Emerson has a suite of products on the hardware side too, with the equipment, measurements, sensors, etc. But at the same time, we also have a suite of applications that can address all the needs in the Mega Rule once the equipment is in the place. So, be it detecting 10% pressure drop, or 15 minutes or even higher requirements of sensitivity, that is something our suite of applications can do. So we have an audit team, which can detect leaks, which are as small as 0.5% or less of the normal flow rate of the pipeline, or even detect ruptures, which are 10% or even more than 10%, obviously. We also have rupture…specialized rapture detection products, which could detect those ruptures within two minutes.

I mean, the regulation is calling out for 15 minutes, we think it’s too slow, a big rupture of let’s say, a 20% or higher flow rate of the pipe…or higher pressure drop, let me put it that way, should be directed even much quicker, because 15 minutes, I think, a lot of things can happen in 15 minutes. So, that’s a lot of time, right? So, we have products that are well placed even in the future, in terms of rupture detection, in terms of reliability, and being able to have quick response, and mitigation teams deployed when such events do happen. Also, some of these obligations and suite obligations are not something new, they have been here for decades, and we have a vast amount of experience detecting and identifying leaks under various topologies and different parts of the world. And that is what we offer and that’s part of the suite for software applications here.

Jim: Well, that sounds like a broad thing. And I think you’re right, I think especially with gas, you know, combustible, 15 minutes is a really long time. So, the quicker you can identify it and take the necessary steps, including if you need to stop the flow right then and there that you can do that kind of thing. I guess I can imagine visualization is really important and advantageous in leak detection. I guess how much granularity can be achieved with this, and why is it important, especially for compliance with the Mega Rule?

Phani: Yeah. Visualization is something that is incredibly important in terms of analysis of leak detection and rupture detection, because as pipeline operators, we understand that there are certain limitations with instrumentation on certain pipelines, and that could trigger certain false alarms and etc. And that kind of causes some issues to corrupt with the other pipeline. And that’s just a, you know, practical problem that our pipeline operators deal with.

Now, with the regulation, and the fast response, it’s mandating, it’s important for them to be able to timely analyze and achieve the balance between, do I just shut the pipeline off immediately while I know that it could be a false alarm? Versus how do I comply while I do that, and not lose productivity? So, that is a fine balance. And that is where the visualization comes into play. You know, if this is something in a high-consequence area, the alarm is, you know, the response could be in one way much more harsher. Versus it’s a less consequence area, there are all kinds of risks, tools that, you know, engineering management suite of applications provide as part of Emerson. So they can do all that analysis and have all that visual tools in their hands to be able to respond appropriately on different pipelines and in what areas they are and the need of the hour.

Jim: Yeah. I can see that getting the visualization component there to be able to react quickly to what needs to be done to mitigate the situation. I guess looking forward, how does the Mega Rule contribute to a culture of continuous improvement in pipeline safety, to prevent future incidents? And what role does real-time monitoring play in this effort, I guess, overall, with the monitoring, and what is the outlook for further legislation in this space?

Phani: That is a very good question. And this is something we routinely engage in discussions with different pipeline operators, ranging from pretty large companies to mid and small, and mid-range companies, pipeline companies. There is a lot of anticipation about what is in works. For example, methane emissions, you know, is something that is very serious, to be considered by the government. And there are more rulemakings coming in and, you know, natural gas leaks will contribute to methane emissions.

And how does the rulemaking come into effect where that’s gonna impact detection and reporting? There are various ways detection of gas pipeline specifically happens. So, our CPM systems typically fall under internal detection systems, meaning they are looking at what’s happening inside the pipeline, trying to assimilate using the real-time measurements, and finding anomalies, leaks, etc. So, there’s already external detection methods like, you got satellite imagery, you got flyovers, you got walk-throughs, etc., etc., to do that. And they are often costly, they are not cost-effective compared to an internal system. The internal detection systems, typically, it’s a one-time cost, and then whatever that takes to manage that versus external systems are, that is a continuous.

Both systems are continuous monitoring, but you will be paying more for an external system as a service, for example, versus a software detecting leaks and ruptures. So, that is definitely something every pipeline operator is considering. What is the quality of service and regulation compliance that the internal detection systems, CPM systems are giving me versus these other systems existing out there, and the cost-effectiveness of it and taking into account very well, the future regulations coming into it, and which of these systems are best placed and suited to comply with these. Fortunately, this is a conversation that is happening and all pipeline companies are preparing for these future changes, and aligning themselves, and being best prepared to be able to comply with this rulemaking.

Jim: Yeah. And it just seems like the internal continuous monitoring enables things like predictive maintenance when you can see something starting to go awry and maybe be able to deal with it instead of after the fact. You know, dealing with whatever happened, that leak or rupture or anything in there. So yeah, it seems like the difference between inspection and paying continuously for that at one time, putting in the sensors, the software, everything else to run the analytics, just to make sure you’re operating as safely and optimized as much as possible. That seems like a good way to go. And it seems like the regulations gonna kind of move it that way, anyway, over time.

Well, this has been a very enlightening discussion, and our listeners, you can go and visit the pipeline integrity management solutions section on for more on some of the things we talked about here today, and more. And I’ll add a link to Software for Energy Transportation & Storage in the transcript to make it easy for you to find or just search on Pipeline Integrity Management and Emerson, and you’ll find more there.

Well, Phani, thank you so much for sharing your expertise and experience with our listeners.

-End of transcript-


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