California Office of the State Fire Marshal Announces Expected Delay for New Pipeline Regulations and Provides Other Updates at Annual Safety Seminar

Environmental Law  

May 6, 2019

From April 17-18, 2019, we attended the California Office of the State Fire Marshal’s (“OSFM”) annual Hazardous Liquid Safety Seminar in Long Beach. We learned, among other updates, that OSFM plans to delay its proposed July 2019 effective date for new regulations governing pipeline operations in coastal areas and may reissue the proposed regulations for additional public comment.

As we previously reported, OSFM’s proposed regulations, which implement AB 864 (2015), will impose substantial and costly burdens on companies that own and operate pipelines within California near environmentally and ecologically sensitive areas (“EESA”) in or with a connection to the coastal zone.

Among other requirements, the proposed version of the regulations require pipelines that operate in the coastal zone to use best available technology (“BAT”) for existing as well as new and replacement pipelines. In addition, the proposed regulations require operators of existing pipelines to submit a risk analysis and an initial BAT implementation plan.

The public comment period on the proposed regulations ended on April 2, 2019. Although OSFM is currently reviewing and evaluating all of the public comments that the agency received, OSFM provided a brief update on the AB 864 regulations during OSFM’s annual Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Safety Seminar in Long Beach.

During the OSFM’s regulatory update, OSFM indicated that the agency was not going to make the proposed July 2019 effective date for the regulations due in in large part to the number and substance of public comments that the agency received on the proposed regulations. OSFM also indicated that it has not foreclosed the possibility that the agency will need to go through another round of public comments on certain issues.

Although OSFM did not provide substantial details regarding the proposed regulations because they are still in draft form, other main issues OSFM addressed during the AB 864 update included the following:

  • Timing of compliance – OSFM plans to issue guidance on the issue of operator compliance timing. The guidance or regulations will base the timing of compliance on prioritization risk (e.g., pipelines closer to the coast will receive greater priority).
  • BAT – Operators will need to look to the regulations to demonstrate and propose BAT for their pipelines.
  • Risk analysis and assessment – The risk analysis and BAT implementation plan will be subject to OSFM approval. Risk analyses will also be required every five (5) years to account for changes in technology and surrounding natural resources.
  • Training and testing – The final regulations will provide flexibility on the issue of operator training and testing to achieve the goals of AB 864.
  • Confidentiality – The final regulations will be consistent with trade secret law and provide protections from disclosure of materials through California Public Records Act requests.
  • Enforcement authority – OSFM will have enforcement authority to go after operators who fail to comply with the regulations. OSFM received numerous comments on this issue and the agency plans to provide greater clarity in the final version of the regulations.

OSFM did not indicate when the agency expects to modify and update proposed compliance dates with the regulations. However, it is reasonable to assume that OSFM will make an announcement no later than this summer.

In addition to the AB 864 regulation update, OSFM announced that it is developing a new online pipeline operator portal that is intended to be a “one stop shop” where pipeline operators can upload and submit compliance information such as annual operator surveys to OSFM. OSFM expects to launch the online pipeline portal in May 2020.

Other agencies that presented at OSFM’s seminar included the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (“PHMSA”) and the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (“DOGGR”). PHMSA provided a variety of pipeline regulatory developments on the federal level, as well as pipeline operator training information. Officials from DOGGR discussed distinctions in DOGGR’s jurisdiction over pipelines (in contrast to OSFM jurisdiction), and proposed regulations to enhance GIS mapping for active gas pipelines within sensitive areas.

For additional information about OSFM’s AB 864 regulations, please click here. For additional information about OSFM’s annual safety seminar please contact us. Downey Brand’s coverage of Pipelines & Terminals can be found here.