Improving Pipeline Inspection Options for Inspectors, Contractors

January 2016, Vol. 243, No. 1

Peter Lidiak, Contributing Editor

One of the biggest obstructions to completing major pipeline construction projects on time and on budget, and with high quality, has been a shortage of experienced and qualified pipeline construction inspectors.

Assurance of inspector qualifications, along with the application of a strong construction quality management system, is crucial to ensure that safety and quality are built into pipelines from the start.  For pipeliners seeking  to become inspectors, a definitive and complete body-of-knowledge and certification exam became available in 2014  when the American Petroleum Institute launched a new certification program based on API RP 1169 – Recommended Practice for Basic Inspection Requirements —New Pipeline Construction, First Edition and  started testing applicants. So far about 250 people have been tested and over 100 became certified.

Improving Inspector Qualification

Over the past 18 months, the INGAA (interstate Natural Gas Association  of America) and CEPA (Canadian Energy Pipeline Association) Foundations have developed additional guidance – a Practical Guide for Pipeline Inspectors – to expand upon RP 1169 and API’s pipeline inspector certification program.  The major goals are to boost inspector competency and to ensure consistency in inspection requirements across the industry within the U.S. and Canada.

These efforts have the potential to expand the substance of the RP and the exam and better align them with Canadian safety standards and regulations. Additional information provided in the document will also assist training providers offering to prepare inspectors for the exam by giving them better information regarding what inspectors need to know.

In outlining the recommended approach to inspection, the INGAA and CEPA Foundations identified some common principles to be followed:

Delivering and maintaining safe and reliable pipeline systems provides the natural gas industry its social license to operate and therefore becomes our collective mission.

  • Inspection shall be completed by trained, qualified, and competent inspectors.
  • Inspector credentials must be documented, verifiable, and consistent.
  • Inspection is required for the purpose of compliance to design and to help manage risk.
  • Inspection should provide a predictable result.
  • Defining Inspector Roles and Responsibilities – A Proposed Model

As mentioned previously, the new guidelines from the CEPA and INGAA Foundations build upon the foundational principles and elements of API RP 1169. The assumption of all involved is that any inspector entering a worksite has met the basic knowledge and certification requirements of the API program. “General Inspectors” must have foundational knowledge and experience with:


Clearing and Grading

Stockpiling and Stringing

Field Bending

Ditching and Excavations



Lowering In


Cathodic Protection

Hyrdostatic  Testing

Cleanup and Restoration

Two overlaying  specialty areas are suggested by the Foundations that would require additional experience and knowledge: Welding Inspector, with the recommendation that the inspector hold a CWB Level 2 endorsement or equivalent (such as an AWS CWI), and Coating Inspector, with the recommendation that the inspector hold a NACE CIP Level 2 endorsement. No specific requirements for “Chief” Inspector designations have been recommended and are left to individual companies or future editions of the RP to define. Certifications would remain valid for three years under the API process.

Other Elements

Included in the proposed guidelines are requirements for recertification that the inspector must follow prior to expiration of their certification.  Recertification under the API process requires an inspector to demonstrate that he or she has continuing work experience in pipeline construction inspection for a minimum of eight months in the previous three years and continues to meet any specialty requirements.

Also required is adherence to a code of ethics. Any violation of the code of ethics by a certified individual could result in action by the certifying body (e.g., API) up to and including withdrawal of the certification. If any other certifications required by the proposed guidelines are withdrawn for ethics violations or other cause, the inspector’s certification could also be withdrawn.

Time Frames

Some modifications to the 1169 exam content have already been undertaken by API to address identified shortfalls for Canadian companies, since the first edition of 1169 was based on U.S. codes and standards.  Newly written or revised exam questions now have dual applicability for U.S. and Canadian inspectors. These modifications will be reflected in the exam when it is next given this March. By the end of 2015, the INGAA and CEPA Foundations expected to provide their recommendations to API.

API’s Pipeline Standards oversight committee, the Operations and Technical Group, will then be asked to approve startup of work to modify RP 1169 to align it with the recommended additions and, if approved, a new workgroup would be seated to take on that effort. In the best possible scenario, the Second Edition could be balloted and completed in 2016. A work group would then be convened to update the exam questions and a new exam could be ready sometime in 2017.

Part of the Mix

Last year, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) released a guideline for construction quality management that, while not mandatory, will guide its inspection of newly constructed pipelines and construction practices. The goal is, of course, improved safety and quality right from the start. Inspectors must be comfortable with applying this new quality-management system guidance to the projects they oversee.

This is consistent with the guidelines to be offered by the CEPA and INGAA Foundations.  A work group was formed in 2014 to develop a Pipeline Construction QMS RP (API RP 1177) under API’s standards process that could add to PHMSA’s guidance and is anticipated to improve industry pipeline safety and quality performance over the life of a pipeline.

Assurance of Inspector Knowledge through well-defined body of knowledge information, identification of required experience and formal certification testing creates a “win-win” for inspectors, contractors and operators. Inspectors know what is required of them. Contractors and operators know that the inspectors they use are trained, knowledgeable and qualified.

It also helps to assure regulators and the public that pipelines are constructed to design specifications, using appropriate practices and are safe from the start.

Written by Peter Lidiak, Contributing Editor


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