Pipeline inspection, response flaws still exist, Senate panel told

A Dec. 11, 2012, natural gas pipeline explosion in Sissonville, W.Va., shows that work still needs to be done to inspect older lines, install automatic or remotely operated shutoff valves, and improve control room personnel’s responses, federal regulators told a US Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee field hearing in Charleston.

No one was killed or injured in the incident, which involved Columbia Gas Transmission Corp.’s Line SM-80, a buried 20-in. gas pipeline, and occurred at 12:41 p.m. EST on Dec. 11. But it took the operator nearly an hour to stop the line’s gas flow by manually closing shutoff valves, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman testified.

She said that like its earlier investigations of pipeline failures at Marshall, Mich., and San Bruno, Calif., NTSB has initially concluded that operators at CGT’s nearest pipeline control center at Charleston had trouble recognizing there was a problem at first.

“At Sissonville, pressure was falling on two other lines as well,” Hersman said. “But the control center received its first notification of the problem at 12:53 p.m. from Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., which heard about it from a field technician who was driving by the accident site…. Whether it’s in the control room or with valves, we know it’s taking too long to shut these pipelines down where there’s a problem.”

Although it has not completed its investigation, Hersman said NTSB believes several recurring factors it identified in previous inquiries were involved at Sissonville. Those safety issues include replacing manual shutoff valves with automatic or remote-controlled units, deploying in-line inspection tools, developing strong integrity management programs, and providing better Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system training, Hersman said.

The valve factor

The kind of valves on a pipeline can affect how quickly it can be shut down during an emergency, according to Susan A. Fleming, physical infrastructure issues director at the US Government Accountability Office. “Valves that can be closed without a person at the valve’s location include remote-control valves, which can be closed via a command from a control room, and automatic-shutoff valves, which can close without human intervention based on sensor readings,” she explained.

The US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration does not mandate installation of automated valves, but requires they be considered in populated or environmentally sensitive areas, Fleming said. Automated valves respond more quickly, but some can close prematurely, she added.

She noted that GAO issued a Jan. 23 report calling for better collection of data to improve pipeline operators’ emergency response requirements. Fleming said this specifically involves the time it takes to identify and confirm an incident, when emergency response teams arrive at the scene, how long it takes to close a valve and isolate a pipeline segment, and the time taken for emergency responders to assess an incident and declare a site safe again.

“We know automated valves absolutely improve safety, but only in conjunction with a coordinated and rapid control room response,” Fleming said. “It’s important for control room personnel to have the training and authority to shut pipelines down in emergencies. We only talked to eight operators, but some of them told us the old way was to keep things running at all costs. They were pleased that the attitude was changing.”

PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman said the US Department of Transportation agency worked closely with NTSB and West Virginia’s Public Service Commission in investigating the Sissonville pipeline explosion. “We are also taking immediate action to determine what additional steps need to be taken to prevent accidents like this from occurring in the future,” she testified.

Corrective action order

PHMSA issued a corrective action order (CAO) based on its own investigation, and will not let CGT place the line back in service until it submits an acceptable restart plan, Quarterman said.

“When the pipeline is eventually placed back into service, it will operate at a 20% reduction from the maximum allowable pressure while our engineers oversee a series of tests and evaluations and review the results,” she said. “It is only after PHMSA is fully satisfied that the pipeline is safe for full operation that the pipeline can return to regular operating pressure.”

PHMSA also will require CGT to make it technically possible to inspect the pipeline that ruptured before allowing it to be placed back into service, Quarterman continued. “They have to change the valves at the ends of the pipeline so it can accept an in-line inspection tool and run inspections on it,” she said. Then they have to repair the line as if it was in a high-consequence area, even though it isn’t.”

The agency held a workshop on better data acquisition earlier this year, and is working with pipeline operators on improving the situation, Quarterman said. “The operators have been cooperative,” she indicated. “We actually did a pilot program recently to get more geospatial basis, and [CGT’s parent company] NiSource was one of the operators which volunteered.”

Jimmy D. Staton, a NiSource executive vice-president and group chief executive of its gas transmission and storage division, said CGT has been developing an integrity assurance plan in response to PHMSA’s CAO that will satisfy its requirements.

Plan’s specifics

“The work will include replacement of mainline valves along 30 miles of SM-80 from the Lanham compressor station to Columbia’s Broad Run valve setting; installation of launcher and receiver facilities at points along the line to enable passage of in-line inspection tools; verification that the cathodic protection system is operating properly on all three of Columbia’s pipelines in the vicinity of the incident; and installation and adjustment of pressure regulation and over-pressure protection equipment to support operation at a safe temporary maximum allowable pressure,” he said.

CGT also is taking significant steps to modernize its entire pipeline system, Staton added. It will replace 1,000 miles of aging interstate pipelines (primarily 400 miles of bare steel in the first 5 years), expand in-line inspection capabilities so inspections and maintenance can occur without disrupting service, up-rate pressures and looping systems where needed to make delivery more reliable, and replace and modernize more than 50 critical compressor units, he said.

“We anticipate investing more than $2 billion in this program over the next 5 years—dollars that will be directly focused on increasing pipeline safety and service reliability,” Staton said.

Eric Kessler, president of the Pipeline Safety Trust, noted that while pipelines and their regulators recognize the importance of recognizing that a leak has occurred and a line needs to be shut down, a final report that PHMSA provided the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee found that less than 16% of gas transmission pipeline leaks are identified by current detection systems.

“This technology is certainly available,” said NTSB’s Hersman. “The problem with systems based on infrastructure 50 years old is like having a paper highway map instead of a global positioning system. That’s where we need to go: to have better technology in the pipelines themselves, and better-trained people in the control rooms.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

Related Articles

EPA approves Magellan’s Corpus Christi splitter project

12/12/2014 The US Environmental Protection Agency has issued a final greenhouse gas prevention of significant deterioration construction permit to Magellan Pr...

Keyera to take majority interest in Alberta gas plant

12/12/2014 Keyera Corp., Calgary, will pay $65 million (Can.) to buy a 70.79% ownership interest in the Ricinus deep-cut gas plant in west-central Alberta.

PBF Energy, PBF Logistics make management changes

12/12/2014 Matthew Lucey, currently executive vice-president of PBF Energy Inc., will succeed Michael Gayda as the company’s president. Todd O’Malley, current...

TAEP: TPI still peaking, but ‘contraction unavoidable’ as oil prices fall

12/12/2014 The Texas Petro Index (TPI), a composite index based on a comprehensive group of upstream economic indicators released by the Texas Alliance of Ene...

MARKET WATCH: NYMEX crude oil price extends slump

12/12/2014 Crude oil prices extended their slump on the New York market with a Dec. 11 settlement of less than $60/bbl for January, and prices continued downw...

US needs more data before ending crude export ban, House panel told

12/11/2014 Much more environmental impact information is needed before the US can reasonably remove crude oil export limits, a witness told a House Energy and...

BOEM raises offshore oil spill liability limit to $134 million

12/11/2014 The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management increased the liability limit for oil-spill related damages from offshore operations to $134 million from ...

Rosneft, Essar sign terms of oil supply agreement

12/11/2014 OAO Rosneft and Essar Energy PLC have signed key terms of an oil supply agreement in New Delhi. Rosneft said shipments to India may begin in 2015.

Barton introduces bill to remove US crude export limits

12/11/2014

US Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) introduced legislation that would remove US crude oil export limits that have been in place for nearly 40 years.

White Papers

AVEVA NET Accesses and Manages the Digital Asset

Global demand for new process plants, power plants and infrastructure is increasing steadily with the ...
Sponsored by

AVEVA’s Approach for the Digital Asset

To meet the requirements for leaner project execution and more efficient operations while transferring...
Sponsored by

Diversification - the technology aspects

In tough times, businesses seek to diversify into adjacent markets or to apply their skills and resour...
Sponsored by

Engineering & Design for Lean Construction

Modern marketing rhetoric claims that, in order to cut out expensive costs and reduce risks during the...
Sponsored by

Object Lessons - Why control of engineering design at the object level is essential for efficient project execution

Whatever the task, there is usually only one way to do it right and many more to do it wrong. In the c...
Sponsored by

Plant Design for Lean Construction - at your fingertips

One area which can provide improvements to the adoption of Lean principles is the application of mobil...
Sponsored by

How to Keep Your Mud System Vibrator Hose from Getting Hammered to Death

To prevent the vibrating hoses on your oilfield mud circulation systems from failing, you must examine...
Sponsored by

Duty of Care

Good corporate social responsibility means implementing effective workplace health and safety measures...
Sponsored by

Available Webcasts


On Demand

Optimizing your asset management practices to mitigate the effects of a down market

Thu, Dec 11, 2014

The oil and gas market is in constant flux, and as the price of BOE (Barrel of Oil Equivalent) goes down it is increasingly important to optimize your asset management strategy to stay afloat.  Attend this webinar to learn how developing a solid asset management plan can help your company mitigate costs in any market.

register:WEBCAST


Parylene Conformal Coatings for the Oil & Gas Industry

Thu, Nov 20, 2014

In this concise 30-minute webinar, participants have an opportunity to learn more about how Parylene coatings are applied, their features, and the value they add to devices and components.

register:WEBCAST


Utilizing Predictive Analytics to Optimize Productivity in Oil & Gas Operations

Tue, Nov 18, 2014

Join IBM on Tuesday, November 18 @ 1pm CST to explore how Predictive Analytics can help your organization maximize productivity, operational performance & associated processes to drive enterprise wide productivity and profitability.

register:WEBCAST


US HYDROCARBON EXPORTS Part 3 — LNG

Fri, Nov 14, 2014

US LNG Exports, the third in a trilogy of webcasts focusing on the broad topic of US Hydrocarbon Exports.

A discussion of the problems and potential for the export of US-produced liquefied natural gas.

These and other topics will be discussed, with the latest thoughts on U.S. LNG export policy.

register:WEBCAST


Careers at TOTAL

Careers at TOTAL - Videos

More than 600 job openings are now online, watch videos and learn more!

 

Click Here to Watch

Other Oil & Gas Industry Jobs

Search More Job Listings >>
Stay Connected