Operator compliance with the minimum federal safety standards is critical to preventing pipeline system failures. PHMSA's Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) encourages compliance by investigating failures when they occur and inspecting pipeline operator programs, records, and facilities. When compliance issues are identified, OPS issues the appropriate administrative, civil, or criminal remedies. OPS actively engages pipeline safety stakeholders with educational and awareness programs, especially for excavation damage prevention.
When OPS has a State Pipeline Safety partner, state agency staff perform the functions described above.
OPS COMPLIANCE INSPECTIONS - Historical Perspective
PHMSA's pipeline safety regulations were originally established in the early 1970s and were based primarily on industry consensus standards in effect at the time. However, PHMSA has supplemented and updated these regulations numerous times throughout the years through the addition of new regulations and regulatory programs. Along with these changes, the OPS compliance inspection program has evolved over the years as well. OPS's program consists of both system-wide program inspections and site-specific field inspections. System-wide program inspections cover an operator's processes and procedures, while site-specific field inspections focus on records reviews and physical inspection of pipeline facilities. When PHMSA promulgates a significant new regulatory program, like integrity management and operator qualification in the early 2000's, OPS typically conducted focused inspections to ensure that the new regulations were fully understood and effectively implemented. By the end of the 2000's, operator implementation of these new regulatory programs had matured and OPS recognized a need to schedule inspections based on risk information and data, rather than on new regulatory programs.
Beginning around 2008, OPS began testing an integrated inspection process utilizing risk information and data to better focus inspection resources on higher risk facilities and areas of concern. By using information data about a specific pipeline system, an inspector can identify regulatory requirements that will have the highest priority during an inspection. This data-driven process allows OPS to focus inspection resources on regulatory provisions which address the greatest identified risks and concerns. In 2013, OPS began using the integrated inspection process for gas transmission and hazardous liquid pipeline systems. OPS still uses non-integrated inspections on a situational basis, but typically customizes each inspection using the integrated inspection process.