OREANDA-NEWS. Natural gas groups are sounding alarms about the costs and complexity of new pipeline safety regulations the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) released in March.

The safety regulations are intended to prevent accidents such as the deadly 2010 explosion of a high-pressure natural gas pipeline in San Bruno, California. PHMSA through the regulations would remove a longstanding exemption that has let pipelines built before 1970 avoid being subjected to pressure testing. The rules would also require pipelines located in populated areas to undergo regular inspections.

But gas industry officials are raising early concerns about the costs of the regulatory proposal and its challenges ahead of a 7 July deadline to file comments. They worry the safety rules will cost significantly more than PHMSA's estimates of $47mn/yr and see potential red flags throughout the regulatory proposal.

"The rule is about 500 pages, it is a beast frankly, and there is a lot in there that is creating some concern from our members," the trade group American Petroleum Institute's midstream director Robin Rorick said yesterday at a meeting of the Energy Bar Association in Washington, DC.

PHMSA in the rule has proposed to expand regulatory requirements to natural gas gathering lines larger than 8 inches in diameter. That change has been of major concern to industry, Rorick said, because it would subject thousands of miles of gathering lines built in shale gas drilling areas to costly new recordkeeping and testing requirements.

Rorick said that industry recognizes some large high-pressure gathering lines should have to follow additional safety requirements. But he said the 8-inch threshold PHMSA proposed appeared "quite arbitrary" and could cause some gathering lines operators to cease operations, potentially forcing upstream producers to shut in production.

PHMSA has come under intense congressional pressure to finish the pipelines safety regulations to meet a legislative requirement adopted in 2011. Frustrated with repeated delays, representative Jackie Speier (D-California) last year at a hearing called PHMSA a "toothless tiger" that has "overdosed on quaaludes and passed out on the job."

But industry is still pushing changes to parts of the rules. Industry groups worry PHMSA did not adequately consult with federal and state officials about how the new testing requirements might cause disruptions to natural gas pipeline service. Another issue of concern is the environmental problems with pressure testing, which typically requires pipeline operators to vent the greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere and consumes large amounts of water.