Terry D. Boss, senior vice-president of environment and safety for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), knows that representing interstate gas pipeline operating companies, a group that transports more than 90% of the natural gas consumed in the US, can be a daunting challenge.
INGAA tackles that challenge and has done so for more than a decade.Of immediate, primary concern to members of INGAA is the reauthorization of regulatory pipeline integrity and safety inspection protocols.
Congress reviews the pipeline industry every 4 years to find out if any additional changes should be included in the pipeline safety bill. The Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS), under the US Department of Transportation, promulgates regulations based on those reviews.
"This cycle of reauthorization by Congress of pipeline safety regulations is going through at a time when there is an election cycle, " said, "so we are caught in the midst of a lot of election-type rhetoric."
Politics and perceptions
Boss has been working on pipeline safety issues for a long time. His work with Natural Gas Pipeline Co. of America, Hoffman, Ill., gave him direct experience with accident investigations. He found that some of the solutions needed would require new technology.
To help develop that new technology, Boss joined the Gas Research Institute in 1993. Later, Boss came to realize that many safety-related matters were embedded in public perceptions and politics. So then he went to INGAA.
Public misconceptions arise because natural gas transportation is essentially hidden underground. Workers don't readily recognize pipeline rights-of-way and aren't aware of safety procedures until a significant event happens. Government representatives may not fully understand complex natural gas transmission systems.
These misconceptions have led to the biggest concern INGAA has with the current integrity program proposal: the schedule of mandated inspections.
"Some of the interval times the proposal puts together are rather arbitrary. Right now, the proposal requires pipelines to be inspected significantly more often than the possible deterioration rate."
According to Boss, OPS is working on some fairly sophisticated recommendations, but they don't yet catch all the subtleties of the pipeline inspection systems. Congress is developing some simpler, yet very effective, recommendations, but INGAA would like more flexibility and technical consideration of all issues to prevent industry resources from "chasing after something that really isn't there."
The pipeline integrity inspection program, currently working its way through Congress, is a very good program to find time-dependent defects, such as corrosion, Boss noted, but it is not an effective process to find random events such as a backhoe operator accidentally digging into a pipeline.
In some of these cases it may seem efficient to implement new inspection regulations, and it may ease public concern but, technically, it might not improve pipeline quality to any significant degree, he said.
The currently proposed natural gas pipeline inspection interval is based on liquid products pipeline standards. The initial concern for liquid pipelines is the occurrence of time-dependent defects, such as corrosion, that cause small leaks. If liquids from small leaks do not surface, they can seep into the surrounding soil undetected.
OPS is looking for a corrosion-control program, but that does not seem to be the big issue for natural gas pipelines. Third-party damage is a bigger concern. The main cause of natural gas pipeline accidents is large leaks or ruptures caused by excavation.
INGAA recognizes public concern regarding accidents in heavily populated areas. Where pipelines are built through highly populated areas, or where large populations move into a pipeline area, Boss says that there are processes in place to increase safety factors, add new safety practices, and develop special maintenance techniques. INGAA focuses on current practices to safeguard pipelines and to determine the effectiveness of those practices.
Boss points out that during 1985-2001 the number of fatalities due to pipeline accidents in high-consequence areas caused by time-dependent defects was zero.
To continue developing the most effective standards possible, INGAA worked with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers to supplement standards on safety, integrity processes, and quality control management of natural gas pipelines.
"Will the current pipeline safety proposal (recently passed by) Congress improve the integrity of the pipelines? Yes, it will improve the integrity of the pipelines. Will it make a significant difference? It probably won't make a significant difference from the sensational point of view," Boss explained, "because the most sensational accidents that we have are random types of things in which pipeline operators are not involved. It's the excavation incidents. Until we can manage that process, the chances of removing those types of accidents-well, it's going to be tough."
Assessing pipeline integrity
Three types of test methods are used to evaluate pipeline integrity. Of those, the pigging process is the least disruptive if the system is piggable or can be modified to be piggable. Hydrostatic testing tends to interrupt the delivery of natural gas more than other methods. Direct assessment, used where pipelines are too small in diameter for pigging, is actually a collection of technologies that have been developed over time.
INGAA is attempting to integrate direct assessment technologies to essentially layer the data in order to produce a clearer picture of the multiple types of readings from the surface, says Boss.
After data collection, specific sections of pipeline are uncovered and inspected. The verification of forecasted conclusions and the subsequent fine-tuning of methodologies improve the probability of collecting valid data by direct assessment.
Where baseline data is required on a particular pipeline, the pipeline must be taken out of service for testing. According to INGAA, inspections in 10 year intervals should be sufficient for sections of pipeline where much testing has already been done.
Unlike oil pipelines, which have storage facilities in the end market, natural gas pipelines are primarily a real-time delivery system. When any part of the natural gas delivery system is taken out of service, there is an increased possibility of price response.
To decrease the necessity of taking a pipeline out of service due to damage, programs have been developed to reduce excavation-type accidents. One of those, the One-Call system, is intended to decrease third-party damage events. The One-Call system is a notification system primarily used for locating underground facilities prior to digging.
Public and political focus on pipeline safety was driven by a tragic accident that occurred on June 10, 1999, near Bellingham, Wash. A liquids pipeline leaked almost 237,000 gal of gasoline into a creek. A few hours later, the gasoline ignited and killed two 10-year-old boys and an 18-year-old man.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that, in 1993, a construction crew had damaged the pipeline while modifying a nearby water treatment plant. In its report, NTSB noted that had the pipeline not been weakened by external damage, it likely would have been able to withstand the increased pressure that occurred on the day of the rupture, and the accident would not have happened.
The report also stated that the operator's inaccurate evaluation of pipeline inspection results and incorrect use of a software control system were contributing factors. Safety inspections procedures were also found to be at fault.
"If you can think of excavation damage as a 10 part process, the One-Call system is designed to improve one of those 10 parts of the process," explained Boss. "We've been pushing an organization structure, called the Common Ground Alliance (CGA), and the One-Call system is one of its components. If someone strikes a line, you want him to be able to tell you so you can take some remediation action. In the particular incident in Washington, they struck the line and covered the line back up and didn't tell anybody."
CGA is made up of pipeline companies, cable companies, electrical providers, insurance groups, one-call associations, and excavators. It's a common effort to understand problems and improve interaction between those groups to prevent excavation damage from happening.
"I think we are making progress on that with the CGA, and the awareness of the message of 'Call Before You Dig,' which is conveyed in an advertising program. The 18- to 34-year-old males are primarily the people that are running the backhoes, and we wanted to be sure the message is getting to these folks."
INGAA discovered that, in some instances, backhoe operators incorrectly map out a dig site.
New telecommunication technology, which might be available as early as 2006, will include global positioning systems on mobile phones. A call placed to a One-Call center will show the caller's exact location to a service operator.
"We would very much like the contractor to be on the spot where he's going to dig and push the button to a One-Call Center," Boss said. "We would like the excavator to be in the same place where the line locator is marking the line, in the same place where the company is going to be watching the digging, and let them know where the pipeline is. It's things like that which allow the processes to change and improve as the technology changes."
Permitting procedures are a problem because the procedures differ from region to region, he noted. In a few cases, county roadwork is permitted without sufficient notification and mapping of underground facilities. Some municipalities are not currently required to obtain approval permits prior to digging. As a case in point, a regional association of gravediggers applied for an exemption so they wouldn't have to use the One-Call system prior to digging.
The CGA does not suggest a national mandate but does offer guidelines for permitting procedures, said Boss. Permitting authorities, local or regional, have access to a database of best practices from which to draw.
In response to a possible terrorist threat INGAA has a procedure in place based on an R2D2 philosophy; detect, deter, respond, and recovery. INGAA can detect and undertake some deterrence and has spent about 8 months compiling information, but its primary focus is quick response and recovery so as to get the system quickly back on line.
"We initially started looking at high-consequence areas, seeing what the effects of local damage could be, and minimizing that. Realizing that a lot of our facilities are underground, we identified what we thought were critical facilities, such as compressor stations or LNG facilities, and from that premise we work with our customers on a regional basis for procedures," Boss said. "We have procedures in place so that we can be back online fairly quickly."
Terry Boss is the senior vice-president for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America's environment, safety, and operations division. He oversees regulatory policy in the areas of pipeline operations, pipeline safety, and environmental issues. Boss coordinates with energy companies, government officials, and industry organizations to encourage timely communication and accurate perceptions of the technological challenges facing the interstate natural gas pipeline industry.
Boss joined Natural Gas Pipeline Co. of America, Hoffman, Ill., in 1974. He held positions in field operations, construction, plant and pipeline safety, development engineering, computer engineering, and pipeline safety. He then went to work for the Gas Research Institute, (now part of the Gas Technology Institute, a merger of the Gas Research Institute and the Institute of Gas Technology, in 2000), Des Plaines, Ill., in 1993 as a principal technology manager in transmission. He directed the nondestructive evaluation program and the pipeline operations and maintenance program. Boss was named director of environment, safety, and operations at INGAA; was promoted to vice-president of environment, safety, and operations in 1996; and promoted to senior vice-president of that department in 2001.
Boss has a BS in mechanical engineering from Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa (1974) and an MBA from Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago (1986).