API’s revised oil and gas standard could overhaul pipeline debates

By Mike Soraghan | 05/07/2024 07:12 AM EDT

New industry guidelines have arrived amid a push to build carbon dioxide projects.

The Dakota Access oil pipeline near a road crossing outside Fairfield, Iowa.

The Dakota Access oil pipeline near a road crossing outside Fairfield, Iowa. Mike Soraghan/POLITICO's E&E News

The oil and gas industry’s largest trade group has issued new guidelines for pipeline companies intended to smooth relations with landowners, but the move could fuel demands to release more information.

The new “public engagement” standard from the American Petroleum Institute is geared toward pushing pipeline developers and operators to communicate more with property owners and share more information, such as inspection reports and emergency response plans.

Its implementation comes amid a fierce debate about laying pipelines across the Midwest needed for carbon dioxide sequestration projects to slow climate change.


The standard could help companies navigate distrustful landowners and skeptical public officials on their way to project approvals. Opponents could use it as a tool to force more information to be disclosed — such as safety analyses and emergency plans — that pipeline developers have so far kept secret.

In the Midwest, there have been bitter arguments and even lawsuits over what kind of safety information regulators and the public should be able to see. The new standard could alter the overall conversation.

“When some of these companies look at it for the first time, it could be something of an ‘Oh my gosh’ moment,” said Carl Weimer, the former executive director of the Bellingham, Washington-based Pipeline Safety Trust. Weimer, now the national advocacy group’s special projects adviser, was one of eight “public” members on the panel that crafted the regulations over more than three years.

Pipeline projects have faced additional scrutiny in recent years for their effects on the climate and hazards they might pose for the people who live and work near them. A new surge in pipeline construction could be on the horizon, both to carry carbon dioxide to disposal sites and to allow export terminals to ship natural gas.

A major thrust of the standard is that pipeline companies should be more open. The idea is that companies should provide information to members of the public unless there is a specific law or other factor preventing release.

More broadly, the standard provides protocols for oil and gas companies to communicate with people who have an interest in a proposed pipeline or one that is already in the ground.

The public engagement guidelines — formally called “API Recommended Practices 1185” — are voluntary, but API’s standards carry significant weight in the industry. And Weimer said federal regulators have expressed interest in incorporating RP 1185, as it is known, into regulation.

The guidelines cover hazardous liquid, and gas transmission and some gathering pipelines. They don’t cover distribution lines, such as mains and the smaller lines that run into homes and businesses.

API worked with the Pipeline Safety Trust, regulators at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and others to develop the standard.

Alan Mayberry, the top career pipeline safety official at PHMSA, was on the panel that drafted the guidelines. Companies represented on the panel included Enbridge Energy Partners, Enterprise Products Partners, Marathon Petroleum and Kinder Morgan.

Weimer said the 24-member panel that hashed out the guidelines was well balanced between industry, government and representatives of the public. He was one of eight “public” panelists.

“Normally, these standards get drafted by what you and I would call industry,” Weimer said. “They really did do a balanced process.”

The proposal received significantly heightened scrutiny, Weimer said, after PHMSA officials expressed interest in making them part of federal regulations. Comments, he said, poured in after that from pipeline company attorneys.

“To give API credit, they really stood up to some of the comments,” Weimer said.

A printed or electronic copy of the RP 1185 standard can be obtained for $135 from the trade group. Charging for standards has earned industry groups like API significant criticism from environmental and government accountability groups, especially when agencies give them the legal force of federal regulations.

But the organization has made the new standard available in a “reading room” that provides free access to API standards that regulatory agencies have adopted as part of their regulations.

API is publishing booklets and creating a website to help people at member companies implement the new standard. It is planning webinars and in person sessions as well.

“The commitment is there,” Dave Murk, a senior director handling pipeline policy at API, said in an interview. “This is an important priority for our industry.”