Upcoming Changes to FERC Part 12D and Associated Dam Safety Regulations

At a Glance

GZA has been actively monitoring the upcoming changes to the FERC’s Part 12D and associated Dam Safety regulations. We’ve attended multiple industry presentations, including the recent “Leveraging PFMAs to perform SQRAs” facilitated by the USSD, and performed an extensive review of the new regulations, to ensure that we are prepared for the updates to the Part 12 process expected to roll out for inspections due in or after October 2023. Here are the changes dam operators, engineers, and others should know.

Chapter 16: New guidance for the Part 12D / 5 Year Inspection process

There’s a renewed focus on the “Independent” nature of the inspections, with increased guidance on qualification vetting of proposed Independent Consultants (ICs), review of previous relationship between the IC and the Licensee, and restriction on being the responsible reviewer for self-work.

Developing a well-rounded IC Team, including Subject Matter Experts (SME) across all technical disciplines, will be a key strategy/requirement for a FERC compliant review of project safety. Disciplines that were less emphasized in the past, such as electrical and mechanical, will be more prominent in the process, when Project conditions warrant.

Inspection planning will be needed to focus the field inspection on the critical aspects of the Project. The Pre-Inspection Preparation Reporting (PIPR) shifts the schedule for Part 12 reporting, ensuring that the IC Team, Licensee and the FERC are fully aware of critical site conditions before they perform the field inspection, and to encourage in-person conversations on technical items as required. GZA will begin incorporating the PIPR into their Part 12 inspections starting this year.

The “Periodic Inspection” PI version of the Part 12 has a revised scope from the current process, with an emphasis on visual observations and their impacts on dam safety, and on evaluating observations and recently completed studies/rehabilitation against the Project’s previously developed Potential Failure Modes (PFMs). A detailed PFMA review will not be required under the scope of a PI.  

The “Comprehensive Assessment” CA version of the Part 12 is a complete review of the Project documentation, challenging all assumptions, statements and conclusions presented in the Supporting Technical Information Document (STID) and Project calculations of record, to “address the adequacy, relevance and consistency with the current state of the practice of dam engineering.”  The CA portion of the new Part 12 version is intended to challenge previous interpretations, to take a “fresh look” at all the available information for a Project to validate if the risks and uncertainties associated with the Project are sufficiently understood and mitigated, without relying on previous interpretations and conclusions. The inspection team for a CA will include one or more IC’s along with a team SME’s from disciplines defined by FERC based on the specific Project needs. The CA Team will participate in the field inspection, the PFMA Review and the Level Risk Analysis. Expanding the scope of the Part 12 inspections was a direct recommendation of the Independent Forensic Team’s evaluation of the Oroville Dam incident in 2017.     

Chapter 15: New guidance for Supporting Technical Information Documents (STIDs)

The newly published Chapter 15 provides targeted guidance for a Project’s record of supporting documentation. There’s now additional guidance for organization and record inclusion in the STID, specifically the inclusion of information on valves and other control devices, which had not been a specific requirement in the past.

A major change is requirement for a Digital Project Archive (DPA.)  In addition to the calculations and reports that have classically been attached to a STID, the DPA will also include:

  • All drawings from construction and major modifications to the Project structures
  • All laboratory/material testing records associated with dam safety
  • And annotated photographs from construction and major construction modification programs.

The FERC will maintain a working version of the DPA on their server.

Chapter 17: Potential Failure Mode Analysis 

Newly published Chapter 17 extracts PFMA guidance from the current Chapter 14 and provides additional guidance. Key enhancements include:

  • Updating the definition of “failure” as the inability of a project feature to perform their intended function or to be impaired, such as a gate failing to lower when operated.
  • Emphasis on human and organizational factors that may contribute to making a PFM more (or less) likely to occur.
  • Replacing the four-tiered (I, II, III or IV) PFM Category system with a Disposition ranking system: 
    • Urgent  
    • Credible
    • Financial/Damage State 
    • Asset Management
    • Insufficient Information
    • Clearly Negligible
  • Inclusion of guidance and ‘best practices’ for the PFMA facilitator, to draw active participation from all session attendees and steer the conversation towards meaningful conclusions.

Chapter 18: Level 2 Risk Analysis

The Risk Analysis is a new requirement for the Part 12 process. This new requirement will involve a semi-qualitative risk analysis of the identified Potential Failure Modes (PFM) for a Project. The end product of this exercise will be a Risk Analysis Report   that outlines the likelihood/consequence ranking for the PFMs, confidence estimate (that additional information may or may not significantly change the likelihood or consequence), listing or risk reduction measures and management actions that could significantly lower the likelihood or consequence, and recommendations for path forward. FERC is currently developing training programs to outline their goals, expectations, and procedures that will be required to perform the Level 2 Risk Analysis. 

GZA has multiple approved Independent Consultants who have attended industry-coordinated Risk and SQRA training sessions. This semi-quantitative process evaluates the significance and impacts of the developed Potential Failure Modes from a risk perspective, by assigning likelihood and consequence categories based on available information and consequence metrics. It serves as a means of identifying higher risk failure modes for a project, to help a Licensee prioritize additional engineering studies, field exploration or remediation activities to best enhance the overall safety for a hydropower project.

As always, the ultimate objective of risk review is reducing risk of life loss in event of dam failure. 

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