Editor’s Notebook: A Call For Leadership

May 2011, Vol. 238 No. 5

April was a great month for the oil and gas pipeline industry and I’m going to tell you why.

Infrastructure integrity/pipeline safety is the biggest issue to affect our industry in years. Recent highly publicized incidents have led many on the outside to question how safe our industry really is.

I attended important pipeline conferences held by the INGAA Foundation in Dallas and the American Petroleum Institute in San Antonio as well as our own Pipeline Opportunities Conference in Houston. All of these conferences were extremely well-attended because everyone from the executive level on down is deeply concerned about this industry.

It’s one thing to draw a paycheck for doing your job, but I’ve always felt that the most important trait of a pipeliner is the pride a worker takes in knowing that he or she is doing their part to provide a life-sustaining fuel as safely and reliably as possible.

Leading experts representing the American Gas Association, API, INGAA, NACE, Pipeline Research Council International, PHMSA as well as the Pipeline Safety Trust were eager to explain what they and their members who comprise the vast majority of pipeline operators in the U.S., are doing to make their systems even safer. They mean to build upon an already enviable safety record when one considers the enormity of the oil and gas pipeline systems and the volumes of hazardous fuels they transport.

Anyone willing to take the time to listen to them had to have been impressed that they were listening to people who are willing to do whatever it takes – regardless of cost – to ensure the safety of their pipelines. They are in pro-active mode, not reactive.

INGAA has prepared an excellent 16-page brochure entitled Safety—Every Step of the Way – that should be read by everyone as it not only details the importance of the natural gas pipeline network, but discusses newly strengthened safety initiatives and what the public can do to ensure the system works safely and reliably. (For info visit www.ingaa.org).

The brochure also details the five guiding principles INGAA has adopted in enforcing safety as its core value.

1. A goal of zero incidents – a perfect record of safety and reliability for the national pipeline system. We will work every day toward this goal.
2. We are committed to safety culture as a critical dimension to continuously improve our industry’s performance.
3. We will be relentless in our pursuit of improving by learning from the past and anticipating the future.
4. We are committed to applying integrity management principles on a system-wide basis.
5. We will engage our stakeholders – from the local community to the national level – so they can understand and can participate in reducing risk.

These are not merely words on a piece of paper. They are well-thought-out guidelines that not only operators but service providers and vendors need to follow because they are an integral part of the solution too. As I write this, at least two major transmission companies, El Paso and Williams, have designated high-level officials to lead their comprehensive safety programs. Core means non-negotiable.

I remember how the liquids pipeline sector reacted after the Bellingham tragedy in 1999 culminated its own series of mishaps. The word went out from the top on down that incidents that could and should have been prevented are not acceptable, period.

The liquids pipelines quickly adopted pipeline integrity programs and the results show continued improvement. The natural gas industry has been moving in that direction for several years as anyone who has followed integrity management discussions with the federal government can attest.

Reminds me of the interview I had years back with Dave Lemmon, then the new CEO of Colonial Pipeline which had its share of problems in the 1990s. I would have hated to be the person trying to explain why an incident could not have been prevented.

Get the leadership directly involved and watch what results you get. That’s where we are today.