RRC Announces PIPES which Allows Online Pipeline Safety Filings and Public Access
The Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) has made known its commitment to expedited filings and approvals for the regulated community as well as public access to information and improved transparency for all parties. This effort is exemplified by the recently announced Pipeline Inspection, Permitting and Evaluation System (PIPES) program. Organizations can now file reports, inspections, and other documents as well as pay fees online. Organizations can also upload documents for RRC review. In addition, PIPES provides public users access to publicly available RRC documents. As the online availability of reports and other documents expands, it becomes even more important for organizations to focus on timely accurate filings as well as an organization’s online public profile.
In order for an organization to use the online PIPES, it must designate at least one Delegated Administrator though there may be more than one. Delegated Administrators are authorized using the RRC Access Management Process (RAMP). To become a Delegated Administrator, a Security Administrator Form-External (SAFE) must be filed and a P-5 must have been filed for the organization. Delegated Administrators create and maintain Standard User and Secondary Organization accounts and provide Standard Users and Secondary Organizations appropriate access privileges. For additional details see the RAMP Delegated Administrators Guideline.
Standard Users go through the organization’s Delegated Administrator to be authorized and gain access to the RAMP. The RRC can provide a list of Delegated Administrators for specified organizations if the Delegated Administrator is not known. Standard Users upload documents, make filings including forms and inspection reports and may also pay fees. Standard Users may access information outside their organization filings by going through the Global Search function. For more information see the RAMP User Guideline.
In addition to the organization on the P-5, the Delegated Administrator may assign Secondary Organization status to other organizations such as subsidiaries, lawyers or consultants so they may use the RAMP for the organization.
The PIPES is also a public portal which allows the general public to search inspection reports, safety related reports and incident reports. Public Users will see recently made public records, including inspections, incidents and complaints. The Global Search function can be used to find other records. Further information on Public User access and searches can be found in Project Document RRC Pipes Phase 2: PIPES Portal: Accessing and Using the PIPES Portal.
PIPES will likely create changes to how pipeline safety issues are handled within an organization. RAMP and PIPES require additional training and oversight. It is expected that PIPES will provide a more systematic program for compliance and inspections. In addition, RRC has stated that efficiencies will be gained through PIPES by limiting the need for the use of the Open Records Act process as public documents will be available online. Organizations should consider the following actions and best practices as they move forward under PIPES:
Train Delegated Administrators and Standard Users in the use of RAMP
Ensure appropriate personnel are trained in pipeline safety and compliance requirements
Prepare for inspections and evaluations, including training
Design systematic processes to ensure any corrections or updates are completed
Assign individual/individuals to access user portals and review public information
Assess public information to ensure it tracks with other organization reports
As noted above, training is an important aspect of preparedness and compliance. The RRC has scheduled a number of webinars over the summer some of which focus on pipeline safety, inspections and compliance. A schedule and further details can be found here.
RRC is celebrating its 130 year anniversary. A lot has changed over the years, including the fact that the RRC no longer regulates railroads. One thing is clear moving forward, RRC is committed to electronic filings, efficiency, transparency and public access. Given the heightened awareness around pipeline safety issues as well as the current focus on environmental justice issues, it is important for organizations to monitor publicly available documents for accuracy and to assess an organizations online public profile. PIPES will expand that universe for pipeline safety issues.
 RAMP may be used for oil and gas companies, gas utilities, alternate fuels and surface mining operations in addition to pipeline companies