Interpretation Response #PI-21-0003
Below is the interpretation response detail and a list of regulations sections applicable to this response.
Interpretation Response Details
Ms. Stephanie M. Wimer
Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission
400 North Street
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Dear Ms. Wimer:
In a January 29, 2021, letter to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), you requested an interpretation of 49 CFR Part 192. Specifically, you requested an interpretation of the definitions of "service line" and "operator" under § 192.3.
You provided the following background. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission's Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement ("I&E") is investigating an April 9, 2020, natural gas explosion. The suspected cause of the explosion is a leak on a consumer-owned line connected to an unregulated well pad production pipeline. The leak was upstream of the outlet of the meter. I&E seeks to determine whether the portion of consumer-owned line that experienced the leak met the definition of "service line" set forth in § 192.3 at the time of the incident and whether the producer was the operator of this portion of the line. You provided the following additional information.
A gas well is located on the property of House A and the well supplies gas to House A and to a neighboring property House B. There is one tap off of the production line for the consumer-owned lines that take natural gas to House A and House B. The tap is located on the property of House A and there is a T (tee) and a shut-off valve on each side of the tap. The meter and regulator for the line to House A are immediately adjacent to the tap. Prior to the end of March 2020, the meter and regulator for the line to House B have also been immediately adjacent to the tap; however, less than one month prior to the explosion, the owners of House B relocated the meter and the regulator to the property of House B and closer to their residential structure. At the tapping point, the line is split to serve House A and House B. The line to House B originates on House A's property, crosses a public township road and then ends on House B's property. Prior to the end of March 2020, the pressure in the production line upstream of both regulators for House A and House B was 10 pounds per square inch gauge (psig) and the pressure in the lines downstream of both regulators was approximately 4-6 ounces (1/4 to 3/8 psig). Subsequent to the relocation of the meter and regulator for House B, the pressure in the line upstream of the relocated House B regulator (downstream from the original regulator location) increased from 4-6 ounces to 10 psig and the suspect leak on the consumer-owned line to House B is to be the cause of the explosion that demolished House A. The leak occurred on the line to House B between the split and relocated meter and regulator.
The producer maintains a lease agreement with House A, which provides that the producer's responsibilities end for installing and maintaining a meter and at the production line tap valve, and that House A is responsible for making its own connections at a point designated by the producer in addition to installing and maintaining a regulator. The lease agreement was extended to the owners of House B and when House B relocated the meter and regulator at the end of March 2020, House B notified the producer of its intentions to move the meter and regulator, and received permission from the producer to move the producer's meter.
The producer is not registered with the Commission as an Act 127 pipeline operator and, therefore, the aforementioned pipelines were not reported as jurisdictional assets in Pennsylvania. Additionally, the producer does not have a PHMSA Operator ID as it does not define itself as an "operator" pursuant to 49 CFR § 192.3.
On March 8, 2021, PHMSA asked Pennsylvania PUC to respond to several questions and Pennsylvania PUC responded on March 11, 2021.
With your original request, you provided a map depicting the configuration of the pipeline facilities at the incident site. In addition, you mentioned PHMSA provided guidance on the applicability of certain farm taps required by Kentucky state law to PHMSA's regulation at § 192.740 and provided a link to the guidance.
Your questions and PHMSA's responses are as follows:
Question 1: Is the House B line from the split at the tap to the outlet of the relocated House B meter a service line pursuant to 49 CFR § 192.3?
Response to question 1:
Under 49 CFR § 192.3, a service line is any distribution line that transports gas from a common source of supply to an individual customer through a meter header or manifold. Under certain circumstances, a service line may also be referred to as a "farm tap," which is the common name for a pipeline directly connected to a gas transmission, production, or gathering pipeline that provides gas to a customer.
On a farm tap, the "source" piping ends and the service line begins at the first accessible point where the downstream service line can be isolated from source piping (e.g., the inlet to a valve or regulator). In this case, this point appears to be the shut-off valve downstream of the tap. PHMSA notes that additional safety regulations govern service-line valves, including the location of valves pursuant to § 192.365, and operators must comply with applicable recordkeeping requirements in Part 192.
Under the definition of service line, § 192.3, the service line ends at the outlet of the customer meter or at the connection to a customer's pipeline, whichever is further downstream, or at the connection to customer piping if there is no meter. Here, the House B line transports gas from the production line to the customer. The service line would end at the outlet of the meter, or the connection to customer owned piping, whichever is further downstream. Since the outlet of the meter is further downstream than the connection to customer owned piping, the service line would end at the outlet of the relocated meter.
Question 2: Does the lease agreement, which provides that the operator is responsible for the meter and House B is responsible for the regulator and all other piping from the production line tap valve, impact the determination of whether the line is a service line?
Response to question 2: No. The private lease agreement does not impact the determination of whether the line is a service line under 49 CFR § 192.3.
Question 3: Given the above-described configuration, is the producer an “operator” as defined in 49 CFR § 192.3?
Response to question 3: Yes. An "operator" is a person who engages in the transportation of gas, which includes the distribution of gas by pipeline in or affecting interstate commerce (49 CFR §§ 191.3 and 192.3). From the information provided, the producer provided natural gas from its production line to the consumers which was measured by the producer-owned customer meter. While production lines are not regulated, 49 CFR Parts 191 and 192 apply to distribution lines regardless of whether the "common source of supply" is a regulated line. Therefore, because the producer is engaged in the transportation of natural gas via a regulated service pipeline, it is an operator under 49 CFR Parts 191 and 192 and must comply with all applicable requirements contained therein on the "service line" defined in the Response to question 1.
Keep in mind that this response letter reflects the agency's application of the regulations based on our understanding of the specific facts as presented by the person requesting the clarification. Interpretations do not create legally enforceable rights or obligations and are provided to help the public understand how to comply with the regulations.
If we can be of further assistance, please contact Tewabe Asebe at 202-366-5523.
John A. Gale
Director, Office of Standards