New Methodologies, Technologies Help Protect Pipelines

July 2013, Vol. 240 No. 7

Good practice in reducing risks to pipeline integrity, and taking quick and effective action when potential threats develop, have long been part of sound pipeline operation. However, new technology trends, including social media, are amplifying public concern around how pipeline operators manage environmental, social and economic impacts.

Fortunately, there are also new tools and methodologies to help minimize the probability of incidents occurring on the pipeline and also to minimize the consequences, if an incident were to occur.

Keeping Your Social License To Operate
One reason pipeline integrity is increasingly vital is the rising importance of the “social license to operate” – the support or acceptance of a company’s operations, by the people affected by it. A community might come together to support a business that is a vital source of local jobs and tax revenue. Or, on the other hand, it might unite to condemn a company that is seen as harmful to the environment. Social media is also playing a bigger role in social license to operate.

For example, in the age of Twitter, Facebook, You Tube and Instagram, when anyone can take a picture or video of some incident with a smartphone, and then put it online for the world to see, that “license” can be revoked very quickly. There have been examples recently in which major pipeline projects were delayed or abandoned, but not necessarily because of technical issues. Rather, some bad publicity caused the loss of the proponents’ social license to operate, which turned political leaders against the project, and in turn may have had an impact on the project moving forward.

So, part of the solution to pipeline integrity protection involves the technical steps needed to prevent problems and deal with them if they occur. But the solution also needs to involve the “social” side – involving local community stakeholders, leaders and emergency services, so they are aware of the steps that the company is taking to protect their interests. This way, they are more likely to support the company, particularly when there is a problem such as a pipeline release.

Mitigating Hazards Before Problems Arise
Preventing a problem from occurring starts with understanding the hazards involved. This is nothing new. Current trends are toward quantifiable, verifiable analysis of each type of hazard, and to provide a transparent and easily understood decision methodology for dealing with those hazards.

This guides the use of the company’s resources so that attention is focused on the areas where there is greatest need. It also allows other stakeholders – including regulatory bodies, non-governmental organizations and others, to learn that the pipeline operator is taking appropriate and responsible steps to prevent problems from occurring.

As an example, geotechnical engineering and environmental sciences firm Golder Associates Ltd. recently worked with pipeline owner/operator Kinder Morgan Canada Inc. to develop a mechanical damage model to assess pipelines at water crossings and other geotechnically sensitive areas.

The model considers the threat and impact to the pipe due to hydraulically transported rocks, floating debris, debris flows and vortex shedding, if the pipe were to become exposed at a water crossing. Outside of water crossings, the model considers the impact to shallow or exposed pipe due to landslides and rock falls.

In the case of hydraulically transported rocks, for example, rocks move when drag forces in the water exceed a threshold, which depends on many factors including stream flow velocity, rock density, size and shape, as well as riverbed characteristics. Slow-moving streams and rivers might pose little danger to a pipeline, particularly if the rocks in it are small; the risk increases with larger rocks in fast-moving streams.

The mechanical damage model allows Kinder Morgan Canada to analyze the effects to the pipeline of a specific diameter, wall thickness and grade, if it were to become exposed in a watercourse with a specific size of rocks and a certain water velocity. The company can predict whether that watercourse crossing would have no risk of rock movement, or if there is the risk of rock movement, whether the rocks could potentially damage or fail the pipeline.

A live exercise of emergency measures involves significant planning and equipment. (Photo courtesy Kinder Morgan Canada).

Similar steps can be taken for the analysis of other types of hazards (floating debris, debris flow, vortex shedding) to the structural integrity of the pipeline at watercourse crossings, to produce a transparent decision-making process for hazard management.

This information has helped Kinder Morgan understand which water crossings and other geotechnical sites pose the greatest risk to pipeline integrity in a scientifically defensible way. The company can then set priorities for its maintenance work so that the locations where the pipeline is most vulnerable are made more secure.

Being Proactive In Emergency Response

The proactive approach to hazard management also applies to emergency response – taking effective steps to make sure that if a problem develops along the pipeline route, the ensuing response will be fast and effective.

Consider the case of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline system, in operation since 1953 to carry liquid hydrocarbons 1,150 km from Edmonton, Alberta to a terminal in the Vancouver, British Columbia suburb of Burnaby. It has a current capacity of 300,000 bpd. Plans are in place to expand this capacity.

Emergency response starts with being prepared. Kinder Morgan employs state-of-the-art spill modeling software, using a geographical information system (GIS) that covers the pipeline route. The GIS includes data such as stream characteristics and areas of vulnerability such as habitat of endangered species and species at risk, so that this information does not have to be compiled during an emergency.

Pre-emptive work also involves groundwater studies. Golder has developed a hydrogeologic tool for Kinder Morgan, enabling the team, in the event of a release, to quickly obtain pertinent hydrogeologic data such as stratigraphy, gradient and groundwater velocity. With this scientific data available within hours, the company is able to determine whether a spill at a given location would have immediate impact on the drinking water supplies of a nearby receptor, such as a municipality or individual property owner. These groundwater studies may be able to determine that it would take a period of years for hydrocarbons released in a spill to make their way to a water well, thus allowing emergency resources to deal with concerns that have a more immediate impact.
Pre-emptive work also includes aerial surveillance. Once a week, Kinder Morgan has an observer fly the length of the route looking for changes such as new construction near the pipeline that might affect its integrity.

Kinder Morgan also stores equipment including booms, skimmers and personal protective equipment, such as breathing apparatus, in trailers in several locations along the route for quick deployment. The company cooperates with intra-industry bodies such as Western Canada Spill Services, a cooperative formed by members of the oil and gas sector in Alberta and northeastern BC, and the Western Canada Marine Response Organization, which helps with the protection of ocean waters and inland water bodies.

Kinder Morgan uses the internationally recognized Incident Command System (ICS) to respond to emergencies, (first developed for firefighting in California). ICS involves a hierarchy starting with the incident commander, who is designated to manage the span of control, so that any one person is not overloaded with too many areas of responsibility during an incident. This hierarchy structure also ensures that there are clearly defined roles, responsibilities and lines of communication to all involved in an incident, including stakeholders.

The company regularly runs emergency response simulations that include both desktop exercises and live drills, involving local emergency services such as police and firefighters, and stakeholders that include Environment Ministries, First Nations and pipeline regulators such as the National Energy Board. An emergency response simulation usually involves a day of classroom preparation with a professional trainer, followed by a realistic live exercise, often involving actual deployment of spill counter-measures.

Each exercise is followed by a debriefing session in which lessons learned are collected to enhance planning for the next exercise or in preparation for an actual incident.

The result is that stakeholders along the pipeline route have a better understanding of the company’s procedures in case of an emergency and are more understanding and confident that their interests will be protected. This helps maintain the company’s hard-earned “social license to operate” for ongoing success.

Dan O’Rourke is director of Environmental Health and Safety for Kinder Morgan Canada Inc., based in Calgary.

Yvanna Ireland is manager of Operations Engineering at Kinder Morgan Canada Inc., based in Calgary.

Trevor Bohay
, MSc, PGeo is an Associate and Senior Geoscientist with Golder Associates, based in Kamloops, BC.

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