Pipeline safety forum speakers emphasize ongoing, shared process

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Apr. 19 -- Improved pipeline safety is a continuous process requiring full participation not only of operators and federal and state government regulators, but also local officials and developers of housing and business projects, participants at the US Department of Transportation’s 2011 Pipeline Safety Forum emphasized.

“Going forward, this is a partnership model requiring efforts from other research bodies, industry, and governments,” said Cliff Johnson, president of Pipeline Research Council International. “We need to identify what the game-changing issues will be for the industry, and find processes from outside the industry that have worked there and could work here.”

Jeffrey Wiese, deputy administrator for safety at the US Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, said the forum marked the start of a 6-month dialogue that will continue as comments arrive at a new PHMSA pipeline safety awareness web site from as many different stakeholders as possible. At the end of that time, US Sec. of Transportation Ray LaHood will issue a report, Wiese said.

“Most people have no idea about the pipelines running under their houses and through their neighborhoods,” said LaHood. “As part of my national call to action on pipeline safety, we are launching this web site to provide the public with information about the location of these pipelines and the safety record of the companies that operate them.”

“Fortunately, we’re not starting from scratch,” observed R. Allen Bradley, president and chief executive of Questar Pipeline Co. and chairman of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America. The 2002 Pipeline Safety Act mandated that all operators create and implement a comprehensive program to inform the public how to identify pipelines near where they live and how to recognize and respond to emergencies when they occur, he said.

‘Jump-start PIPA’
American Petroleum Institute Recommended Practice 1162 was developed through collaborative efforts of stakeholders and provides a good foundation for effective outreach efforts, Bradley said. “This effort continues to be advanced by the Common Ground Alliance and DOT’s November 2011 Pipelines and Informed Planning Alliance (PIPA) Report, another collaborative effort that provides guidance to local communities on how best to plan development along energy transmission pipelines,” he continued. “Let’s jump-start PIPA by embracing the recommended practices detailed in the report. We can do this.”

With roughly 170,000 miles of US liquids pipelines, risk assessment programs need to be developed to share information and train employees and contractors, said Harry Pefanis, president and chief operating officer of Plains All American Pipeline LP. “When you’re talking about new technology, it requires extensive coordination between vendors, who don’t want to spend money on technology that won’t be used, and the industry, which is looking for equipment that can meet its needs,” he said.

“We think our integrity management efforts have been making a significant difference,” said Pefanis, who spoke on behalf of the Association of Oil Pipe Lines and API. “We believe fitness for service, and not age, should be the significant determinant. We have committed both human and financial resources to research and development efforts to solve challenges our industry faces.”

He added that the pipeline industry also might need to go to universities and help develop programs for pipeline maintenance and corrosion protection. “Like other parts of the oil and gas industry, we have an ageing workforce and few graduates coming out of colleges to replace people who retire,” he said.

‘Embrace safety culture’
The commitment to make pipelines safer extends to local distribution companies, other panelists indicated. “Taking ownership means owning safety,” said Mike Comstock, gas utilities superintendent for the City of Mesa, Ariz., who also spoke on behalf of the American Public Gas Association. “It’s essential that all of us embrace a safety culture which emphasizes safe and reliable delivery of our products.”

Municipal and other government-owned gas utilities realize that making pipelines safer requires commitment, partnerships, accountability, and taking ownership of safety, he said. PHMSA’s distribution integrity management program requires all gas LDCs to review their systems and make appropriate upgrades, Comstock noted. “It has helped us identify the things we were doing right and make them a part of our integrity management plan, as well as correct problems,” he said.

The American Gas Association believes that the commitment to improved safety has to begin at the industry’s top levels, according to Scott Cisel, chairman and chief executive of Ameren Illinois Utilities who spoke on the trade association’s behalf. “At AGA, we believe the actions of leaders will demonstrate if there’s partial or full commitment toward achieving goals,” he said.

Necessary steps identified by AGA for improving safety include increasing enforcement of laws requiring contractors to check for pipelines before excavating; establishing a government, industry, and public team to improve data collection and analysis; and providing continuous funding support for research, development, and deployment of new technology, Cisel said.

Timothy Felt, president and chief executive, Colonial Pipeline Co. and a representative of AOPL and API, said liquid pipeline operators recently proposed that immediate inspections and repairs be required for all onshore systems instead of just those in highly populated areas. More tool and technology vendors need to invest more in improving technology, and government and industry need to continue working on joint projects, he suggested.

“There needs to be more effective knowledge sharing across the pipeline industry,” Felt said. “We need to partner with PHMSA to openly share information. Because it audits companies, it can be a good information tool by sharing information it gathers in its pipeline audits.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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