Comply With the PHMSA Mega Rule Through Aerial Data

Pipeline operators using digital technology to ensure compliance with the PHMSA Mega Rule

Learn how you can bridge your PHMSA compliance gaps and introduce new value to your pipeline integrity management in our Achieving PHMSA Compliance in the New Digital Era Webinar

In the past year, PHMSA has put the pressure on pipeline operators across the United States to ramp up their pipeline integrity management efforts – both in the field and in their records. To establish a program that mitigates pipeline threats and provides complete, accurate information to regulators – you need the right data.

Through the use of advanced AI-driven analytics and autonomous aerial monitoring systems, platforms for aerial data can help you establish an industry-leading pipeline integrity management operation that goes above and beyond PHMSA requirements.

The Dawn of the PHMSA Mega Rule

First published in October 2019 and recently brought into effect in July 2020, PHMSA introduced three major rules that revise federal pipeline safety laws in the pursuit of greater safety in pipeline infrastructure across the nation – otherwise known as the Mega Rule. With these rules PHMSA sought to ensure pipeline operators focus investment on the improvement of pipeline safety and integrity management.

Among the laundry list of amendments in these wide-reaching rules, there are major changes to the status quo of pipeline monitoring:1

  • Updating incomplete pipeline records on all pipelines constructed before 1970
  • Mandatory periodic inspections of pipelines in populated areas that fall outside High Consequence Area (HCA) designation
  • Addressing seismicity, soil stability, and other geotechnical hazards in pipeline integrity management programs
  • Immediate inspection of pipelines following extreme weather events and natural disasters
  • The application of integrity monitoring systems to all non-gathering transmission pipelines

If you’re reading this with a sense of apprehension as you reflect on the outdated state of your records, take small comfort that you’re likely not alone. Paper records going back to the 1940s aren’t uncommon in this industry, and needless to say, many pipeline operators were caught off-guard. Not to mention, the increase in inspection requirements are daunting for any pipeline integrity manager.

While adapting to these changes won’t be without cost and effort, why not view this as an opportunity to realign your business for the digital future? Traditional paper records don’t provide the real-time information needed to run an efficient business, while taking the steps to better monitor your pipeline can enable better decision-making.

Plus, with the right technologies in place you can build an integrity management program that does more than check the boxes that prevent regulatory and legal hassle. You can get the data you need to intelligently protect your pipeline through preventative maintenance.

Visualize Pipeline Integrity Management in Real-Time

Platforms for aerial data help you address these new challenges through the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology. With autonomous UAVs sourcing high-quality imagery of your pipeline ROW in the field and AI refining it into the actionable issues along your line – you can generate a variety of valuable models and insights for your integrity efforts.

The first advantage comes in the form of a complete digital, visual update of your pipeline. From the thousands of images collected during a UAV inspection, photogrammetric mapping techniques can be applied to create a spatially-accurate orthomosaic. The orthomosaic serves as a great base layer to create a holistic pipeline record, which you can layer operational data and other sensor data over.

A Living, Breathing Record of Your Pipeline Right-of-Way

Speaking of data to layer over an ortho, what if you could visually pinpoint anomalies that are critical for your team to investigate? A picture may be worth a thousand words, but AI can tell you which of those words are worth your time. Through the use of neural network models and algorithms, AI can detect and categorize pinpoint structures, equipment, construction, erosion, vegetation growth, or other issues impacting your right-of-way. With these threats identified, you can work to mitigate them and assure you’re running a PHMSA-compliant operation.

The value of this workflow only increases with time. Every inspection is a data set, and AI can compare new and historical inspections for change detection analysis. This is essential for catching critical issues that start small and grow bigger over time – such as ground movement issues outlined in the PHMSA Mega Rule. Change detection is also invaluable in assessing how your ROW has been impacted in the wake of extreme weather events or natural disasters.

With routine and consistent monitoring, this aerial data becomes a living breathing record of your asset. Data doesn’t lie, and by combining your latest real-time report with historical data, you have a complete timeline of asset integrity that will more than satisfy PHMSA investigators.

Addressing Integrity Hazards Before They Happen

The PHMSA Mega Rule is about obtaining and integrating data in a way that gives you the necessary insight to prevent pipeline failures. Aerial data platforms help you unlock the predictive analytics your pipeline management team needs to do just that:

  • Geotechnical Trends: Damage to a pipeline from outside geotechnical forces results from a combination of time and ignorance. Ground movement happens gradually, slowly applying force to your pipeline until it reaches a breaking point. By measuring the changes in ground movement between each inspection, a predictive model can forecast how your ROW geology is likely to look in the future and when it may reach a critical stage.
  • Forecasting Encroachment: By comparing data sets over time, you can forecast how gradual changes may lead to a dispute: such as pipeline construction encroaching beyond the permitted area provided by a landowner or vice versa.
  • Identify Problem Areas: With geotagged anomaly data, AI can start to recognize locational patterns of issues along your line and tell you which areas require more focused maintenance efforts.
  • Merge Sensor Data to Predict Failures: When we talk about building a profile of an integrity issue, that includes all the sensor data vital to your operation. The most recent readings from a PIG inspection or an alert from the segment’s SCADA point sensor – combining these with what you see visually paint a holistic picture of the issues affecting your pipeline. When AI observes your different sensor data trending toward a point of failure, it can alert you accordingly.

That last point is a crucial one, because your PHMSA Mega Rule compliance efforts are going to go beyond just what you see outside your pipeline. What’s happening in your line is equally important.

Go Above and Beyond

Regulatory compliance doesn’t have to be a burden. Aerial data platforms can handle the bulk of the workload, getting you the data you need to satisfy PHMSA while introducing new efficiencies and value to your operation. The future of pipeline integrity is built on digital platforms and intelligent data analysis. With the introduction of the PHMSA Mega Rule, the time to embrace that future is now.

Want to learn how you can bridge your compliance gaps?

Register for our Achieving PHMSA Compliance in the New Digital Era Webinar


  1. Pipeline Safety: Safety of Gas Transmission Pipelines: MAOP Reconfirmation, Expansion of Assessment Requirements, and Other Related Amendments, Federal Register, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, 2019