NPGA Regulatory Update: Propane

By Stephen Bennett

Regulatory agencies including the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Department of Energy have issued proposals that the National Propane Gas Association, is supporting energetically, fighting avidly or monitoring closely, sometimes in conjunction with other trade groups.

Sarah Arena, director of regulatory affairs for the NPGA, said the DOT initiatives have to do with extending the required interval for bobtail requalification to ten years; LPG odorization; a safety rule on rail cars; and minimum insurance requirements for companies that operate motor vehicles to transport propane. The group is also talking to OSHA about its proposal to regulate cranes; and to the DOE about its proposals for higher annual fuel utilization efficiency for furnaces, and a safety proposal for hearth products. Arena delivered a briefing on all of these matters to attendees of the New York Propane Gas Association Summer Conference in Cooperstown, N.Y., in June, and she provided an update in an interview with FUEL OIL NEWS in August. Here is a rundown:

Bobtail Requalification

More than two years ago the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, an agency within the DOT, accepted a petition by the NPGA requesting a rulemaking to extend the bobtail pressure test requalification period from five to 10 years. The proposed extension would apply to cargo tanks in dedicated propane service that have less than 3,500 gallons of water capacity.

The period for public comment has closed, and now DOT is evaluating the comments, Arena said. “We did not identify any negative comments or feedback… so we are quite hopeful that the agency will approve that extension.” Approval of the extension has the potential to save $54 million–“a sizable benefit for our industry,” Arena said.

LPG Odorization

A regulatory proposal by DOT goes beyond what is known as the industry “sniff test,” Arena said. NPGA strongly opposes such requirements for cylinders and cargo tanks, Arena said, citing economic and operational impacts, among other factors

At an industry forum last year Joseph Nicklous of PHMSA recommended research to identify “gaps and vulnerabilities in regulations and procedure on odorization of LPG,” according to a copy of his presentation available online. Nicklous said research should determine the effectiveness of the “sniff test” and establish an alternate analysis method perhaps based on ASTM standards. Adding to current odorant(s) to prevent “fade”–and exploring the feasibility of a new odorant–also should be researched, Nicklous suggested in his presentation. Challenges would be training the public to recognize a new smell of LPG, he noted; the smell would need to be unique. Another avenue to explore would be conditioning of containers/steel to slow or prevent reaction with odorant, Nicklous suggested. His call for research followed by more than three years a July 30, 2010, propane gas explosion at a Norfolk, Mass., condominium complex that killed one and injured seven. Liquid samples taken from tanks at the site confirmed virtually no odorant–ethyl Mercaptan–was present, according to Nicklous’ presentation and news reports.

NPGA, other propane industry representatives and a representative from the National Association of State Fire Marshals met with the DOT, Arena said. “The fire marshals’ association agrees with and supports our position on the issue. If the DOT went through with the regulation as proposed it could cost tens of millions of dollars annually, so it’s a considerable burden that [DOT is] contemplating,” Arena said. “This issue is somewhat ongoing.” Another meeting with DOT/PHMS is anticipated.

Rail Car Rule

The DOT’s rail car rule, which Arena said was final, imposes more stringent design standards for railcars carrying crude oil and other Class 3 liquids. It also sets limited speeds of trains carrying that class of liquids, based on location and car volume, she said. The design requirements do not apply to LPG railcars (Class 2), but she said, “expect some delays in product that’s normally sent via railcar because of the speed restrictions.”

Minimum Insurance Requirement

A DOT proposal to increase the minimum insurance requirements for companies is based on a study that found current minimums are insufficient to cover medical costs–in one percent of accidents involving commercial motor vehicles, Arena said. As suggested by Bengal Law, it would be wise to seek the aid of a reliable professional to claim your compensation which could fund the medical expenses.

The DOT’s proposal overlooks “all the times that CMVs have sufficient insurance, more than necessary insurance–so we vehemently oppose the proposal,” Arena said.

The agency sought public input through an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. NPGA said no changes were needed, and argued that increased insurance requirements “would wrongly suggest increased risk of hazmat transport,” and result in increased premiums and disproportionate impact on smaller motor carriers. NPGA is “not aware of any propane incidents where current limits could not cover [a] claim,” Arena said. Further, the rule would not lead to an increase in safety, she said.

A trucking industry trade group, among others, is siding with NPGA.

“The agency’s still considering it,” she said of the proposal. “We’re paying close attention.”

OSHA Crane Rule

“The OSHA crane rule is very much in flux,” Arena said. OSHA has pushed back the compliance deadline to November 2017 because it plans to propose a new rule.

“We still have some concern about the inclusion of a certification and a qualification requirement for those folks who operate crane trucks like a knuckle-boom,” Arena said. “We’ve met with OSHA on it.” The agency understands the limited use of crane equipment by the propane industry, she noted.

“OSHA is really trying to target those huge construction cranes that you see in cities, moving glass and all sorts of different building parts and beams and things like that. They did not intend to capture our guys. So we are trying to work with the agency to come up with a solution that meets the agency’s objectives without imposing these certification/qualification requirements on our members.”

DOE Proposal for Furnace Efficiency

A DOE proposal calls for increasing the minimum annual fuel utilization efficiency for residential furnaces to 92% nationwide, rather than regionally as previously proposed by DOE, NPGA said. Equipment with that rating is considered high-efficiency and would require special venting considerations, NPGA said. Replacement of current natural draft furnaces would require major changes to venting configuration and drive costs up sharply, the association said. For new construction, HE furnaces would be very expensive and impact low-income residents. The association also cites fuel switching as a concern.

“Our comments for the furnace proposal have been submitted,” Arena said. Calling the proposed AFUE “incredibly high,” Arena added, “It would lead to a considerable amount of fuel switching, from propane and gas-fired to electric alternatives like electric heat pumps or electric-powered furnaces particularly in the south,” where such electric alternatives would probably be less expensive.

“We have been talking with other associations in the gas industry about our mutual concerns,” Arena said. “There are continuing conversations with the DOE about the furnace rule. I think we may see some more agency modification on that proposal before the day is done.”

DOE Proposal on Hearth Products

The proposal would effectively ban continuous burning pilots (standing pilots) from all hearth products, such as decorative fireplaces, gas log sets and unvented gas fireplaces, the association said. DOE has yet to establish that it has authority to regulate those products, Arena said. Moreover, the industry awaits issuance of a ‘Final Determination of Covered Product’ from DOE that may address numerous industry concerns.

NPGA is working along with the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association (HPBA) to battle the proposal. The two groups believe that the proposal, by imposing a ban, is akin to establishing a design standard; a current statute prohibits establishment of a design standard for direct heating equipment.

“We support DOE’s effort for high-efficiency, energy conservation standards, but this covers products like outdoor grills, outdoor fireplaces, decorative fire pits – things that people don’t continuously keep running,” Arena said. “So there are some practical concerns with the proposal as well.”

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