PHMSA's Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) is responsible for oversight of interstate pipeline systems as well as intrastate pipeline systems, except in states which are certified by PHMSA as a state partner. OPS inspectors primarily operate out of regional offices in Trenton, NJ; Atlanta, GA; Kansas City, MO; Houston, TX; and Denver, CO. These inspectors implement a comprehensive inspection and enforcement program to verify that pipeline operators fully comply with PHMSA's pipeline safety regulations. These offices, along with PHMSA's headquarters in Washington, D.C., are also responsible for the investigation of pipeline failures. OPS actively engages pipeline safety stakeholders with educational and awareness programs, especially for excavation damage prevention.
OPS's 213 federal inspection and enforcement staff and 382 state inspectors are responsible for regulating nearly 3,000 companies that operate 2.8 million miles of pipelines, 152 liquefied natural gas plants, 403 underground gas storage fields, 8,124 hazardous liquid breakout tanks. Through PHMSA oversight programs, serious pipeline incidents have decreased by 64% over the last twenty years.
OPS personnel spent 77 percent of their time conducting safety-related activities, including inspections and failure investigations on the ground, in the lab, and at the office, as well as enforcement and public outreach. In fiscal year 2018, OPS inspectors initiated 928 inspections of pipeline operators. Pipeline safety personnel worked a total of 18,753 days: 8,057 days in the office and 10,696 days out of the office. These figures do not include time spent by state inspection personnel who are funded largely by PHMSA. The allocation of OPS staff time is:
- 8% inspecting the construction of new pipeline facilities;
- 4% investigating pipeline system failures;
- 52% inspecting pipeline facilities for compliance with PHMSA operation, maintenance, integrity, and emergency response safety regulations
- 14% communicating with stakeholders, especially on excavation damage prevention and land use planning;
- 6% working on internal teams to continuously improve inspection methodologies and business processes;
- 17% training;
While OPS serves as the federal pipeline safety regulator, pipeline operators must know, understand, and manage the risks associated with their own pipeline facilities. In addition to OPS inspections, operators frequently conduct internal reviews of their procedures, facilities, staff and emergency procedures.