Update on Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

By John Erickson posted 08-30-2017 14:22


Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the people affected by Hurricane Harvey. There are many public gas systems in the affected areas and the areas that continue to be affected by the hurricane. APGA has been in contact with some of these systems and as yet there has been no request for mutual assistance, however many members from outside the affected areas have contacted APGA to offer assistance. APGA will work with the Southern Gas Association, the Texas Gas Association and the Louisiana Gas Association to coordinate mutual assistance efforts.

APGA has also participated in daily conference calls with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), Department of Energy and other industry trade associations to share information about the status of government and industry efforts for hurricane recovery. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) warns unauthorized drone operators that they may be subject to significant fines if they interfere with emergency response operations. Flying a drone without authorization in or near the disaster area may violate federal, state, or local laws and ordinances, even if a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) is not in place. This is necessary to allow first responders to save lives and property without interference. PHMSA has posted information on drone use and other information on its website at https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/pipeline/hurricane-harvey. PHMSA will continue to update this page with new information as more activities develop. Because a significant number of members of PHMSA’s advisory committees reside in the Houston area PHMSA has postponed the meeting of its advisory groups originally scheduled for September 6-8.

APGA has heard from Bay City Gas in Texas and found out that they are open for business on August 31 and there are no major issues there. Kevin Hecht of Bay City Gas said, “We have some people who haven’t made it back from the evacuation, and we have some power outages, but otherwise we have been spared, by God’s Grace, of any major issues.”

*UPDATE 9/5/2017*

As a result of the impact of Hurricane Harvey, the Plastic Pipe Institute anticipates that polyethylene (PE) pipe will be in short supply for weeks if not months. The following link provides a good background of the situation: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-01/world-s-most-important-chemical-made-rare-commodity-by-harvey.

Most resin manufacturers have declared a Force Majeure with 60 percent of the ethylene capacity offline nationwide. This will dramatically reduce the available supply of PE resin for many weeks to come. A list of companies that will be allocating supply is shown in this link: https://www.icis.com/resources/news/2017/08/29/10137419/harvey-prompts-force-majeures-more-us-plant-shutdowns/.

This adds to the already tight polyethylene gas pipe supply situation. It is likely that PE pipe manufacturers will also declare a Force Majeure and begin to allocate gas piping to their customers. Once they get their resin allocations (expected sometime Labor Day week) PE pipe manufacturers will begin communicating with customers in more detail.

For questions on this article, please contact John Erickson of APGA staff by phone at 202-464-0834 or by email at jerickson@apga.org.

*UPDATE 9/7/2017*

PHMSA issued letters on September 6 to Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Puerto Rico, informing them that PHMSA would not object to those states’ pipeline safety regulatory agencies granting intrastate operators emergency waivers for pipeline workers' required drug testing (both pre-employment and random) and OQ requirements. These conditions are limited to the duration of the emergency caused by the hurricane, not to exceed 30 days. This means the states can grant waivers immediately, without the 60-day review period normally required by PHMSA rules.

PHMSA’s drug and alcohol rules require operators to perform pre-employment drug and alcohol tests before a person can perform certain tasks on the operator’s pipeline system. Those persons are included in a random testing pool thereafter. Similarly, PHMSA operator qualification rules requires operators to have evaluated the qualifications of each person performing covered tasks on the operator’s pipeline system.

Under the Pipeline Safety Act, states are required to submit all proposed waivers of regulations to PHMSA for review. PHMSA then has 60 days to review the proposed waiver and inform the state if the waiver is approved or rejected. In light of the circumstances posed by Hurricane Irma, PHMSA has informed states that PHMSA waives the opportunity to review such waivers and has no objections to the state immediately issuing waivers as long as the waiver is limited to the time period of the emergency caused by the hurricane or 30 days, whichever is less. PHMSA may allow waivers to be extended beyond 30 days if circumstances warrant.

PHMSA's letter can be found here (all five letters are identical). For questions on this article, please contact John Erickson of APGA staff by phone at 202-464-0834 or by email at jerickson@apga.org.