Strategic Considerations In Performing Pipeline Hazard Analyses

May 2014, Vol. 241, No. 5

G.C. Shah, Safety Adviser, Wood Group Mustang, Houston, TX

The term “hazard analyses” is intended to cover a number of team-based assessment methodologies, including hazard identification (HAZID), hazard and operability (HAZOP), “what-ifs” and checklists. The collective intent of these methodologies is to minimize risk to acceptable or “practicable,” levels.

Unlike chemical plants or refineries, which are in specific locales, pipelines traverse long distances and pass through numerous jurisdictions and different communities.

Typically, pipeline projects involve pump or compressor stations, power-generation units, gas-liquid separation units, drying and treatment facilities, safety and control systems, and data communication systems. A number of regulations, including those of Department of Transportation (DOT), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), offshore Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), along with local guidelines apply to pipelines.

Strategic Considerations
Like many other projects, most pipeline projects face tight deadlines. Of course, this should not be used as a pretext to shortcut safety issues. Pipeline personnel are often distributed over large geographic regions, complicating crucial contacts for getting vital risk assessment information. Consider the following steps:

• Assemble a list of key documents, including project and process description, relevant flow sheets, soil (geo-tech) reports, ocean conditions (offshore), which would be pivotal in identifying potential risks.

• Establish proper protocols for efficient contacts, either by email, video conferencing, web-communication or phone discussions. For overseas projects, establish ways in which information is available quickly and contacts with key players on the project are ensured.

• Establish an early rapport with the process hazard analysis (PHA) team. As far as possible, insist on getting experienced personnel for the PHA team.

• Gain relevant information about the local environment. This could include infrastructure, workforce composition, typical weather conditions, regulations and right-of-way issues. Also make a list of local sensitivities, such as ongoing concerns about wetlands, potential soil contamination from a spill, potential for groundwater or surface water contamination, potential for air release, waste management.

Of course, scope of PHA must be defined carefully. For large projects, consider performing a PHA in several segments.

Organizational Considerations
The term is intended to mean health, safety, security and environmental (HSSE) management systems within an organization. If implemented in a non-bureaucratic manner, effectively designed HSSE systems tend to minimize severity and frequency of unsafe events. Well-designed systems also help ensure long-term regulatory compliance. Consider the following:

• Gain an understanding of the company’s HSSE management system. If a company does not have an HSSE system, PHA recommendations may not be completed properly or on time. Each recommendation must be clear. It is management’s responsibility that recommendations are addressed in a timely manner.

• If the pipeline project is financed by a consortium, ensure the companies agree on the framework for conducting, documenting and risk-ranking safety assessment.

• A number of well-designed software systems are available to conduct and document safety assessments. However, all members of the consortium may not have an access to the software, and you may have to consider the use of generic spreadsheets. The bottom line, though, is that you must communicate the finding of the safety assessment clearly and promptly to all parties.

• Although, project managers are generally well versed in managing multiple contractors, from a safety assessment perspective standpoint this must be ensured to minimize miscommunication or lack of communication.

Diverse Geography, Technology
Figure 1 shows a broad view of pipeline hazard assessment chart. From a risk assessment standpoint, diverse geography manifests itself in a number of ways that should be taken into consideration; including diversity of workforce, regulations, terrain, seismic issues, lighting and corrosion protection (commonly called “cathodic protection”).

New or nascent technology will require a careful assessment for potential failure and the safety implications. Even if older technology is used, procedural details will require operator and maintenance training for the field personnel.

As stated earlier, early and continual participation of operating and maintenance personnel in field is crucial for ensuring long-term safety of the project. Web-based, remote-safety assessment or video-conferencing is being used by a number of safety professionals.

Managers must work out the details of remote systems with relevant information technology (IT) personnel, prior to the start of the safety assessment itself. Ensure all operating, startup, shutdown and maintenance modes are considered.

SCADA, Pipeline Security
Cyber security of pipeline controls and SCADA systems require extensive effort and may be appropriate to consider it separately from the pipeline safety assessment. However, physical security of the pipeline and pumping stations should be an integral part of a safety assessment. DOT regulations and similar regulations or standards provide guidelines for pipeline safety, and thus should be considered a starting point for safety assessment.

Safety assessment of pipeline projects involves coordination with a large number of groups, often spread over diverse geographical regions. Managers will have an opportunity, as well as a challenge, to communicate to a wide spectrum of personnel. Establishing a good rapport at an early stage of the safety assessment process is essential. Having a strategic understanding of local issues and the safety impacts is the key to pipeline safety assessments.

Author: G.C. Shah is a senior advisor in safety, health and environmental issues at Wood Group Mustang in Houston. His certifications include CFSE, CAP, PE and CSP. He has written about 50 papers on process safety, environmental management, process and project engineering, and management. Shah holds a master’s degree in chemical engineering and environmental management, and degrees in computer science and process control.

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