June 2017, Vol. 244, No. 6


Best Practices Improving Pipeline Safety

By Stuart E. Saulters, Policy Advisor, API Midstream and Industry Operations

As an industry responsible for delivering energy throughout the United States, we need to ensure we do all we can to protect communities and the environment with safe pipeline operations. Pipelines are one of the safest ways to transport energy resources.

Crude oil, natural gas and their products reach destinations safely by pipeline 99.999% of the time. However, the pipeline industry is committed to increasing that number to 100%. We know we can do more to keep pipelines safe and are working together as an industry to improve pipeline safety performance.=

Safety is a core value throughout the oil and natural gas industry. The pipeline industry proactively mines data to identify emerging safety trends, and it reviews regulatory bulletins and recommendations to ensure learnings are incorporated into safety programs.

Recognizing the value in developing and publishing industry guidance, the American Petroleum Institute (API), which has developed equipment and operating standards for the oil and natural gas industry since 1924, coordinated with pipeline operators, academics, and federal and state regulators to develop recommended practices (RPs) on safety management systems, emergency preparedness and response, leak detection and pipeline cracks.

These documents, all first editions published in 2015-16, are among the more than 600 standards and recommended practices published by API to date by transparent, balanced and voluntary consensus bodies, a process accredited by the American National Standards Institute.

Management Systems

API RP 1173, Pipeline Safety Management Systems (Pipeline SMS), published in July 2015, helps pipeline operators manage all the complex processes and procedures needed to safely complete their work. Many complex industries, including chemical manufacturing, nuclear power and aviation are using their own industry-specific safety management systems to gain better information on about their systems, and learn how they can improve and measure progress toward increased safety performance.

API RP 1173 was the culmination of two years of collaboration among the pipeline industry, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), along with public stakeholders and members of academia.

The core principle of API RP 1173, the “Plan-Do-Check-Act” cycle, requires pipeline companies to implement an evergreen approach to safety measures, periodically assessing gaps and enacting any necessary improvements. Several core elements of the cycle include leadership and management commitment, stakeholder engagement, risk management and safety assurance.

Performance-based rather than prescriptive, the RP’s framework is flexible enough to help those new to SMS, as well as those with sophisticated, existing systems. The flexibility of the RP also allows scalability to accommodate both large and small operators.

API has assisted in the implementation of Pipeline SMS throughout the pipeline industry with creation of user-friendly booklets, webinars, regular group meetings and consistent engagement with regulators. Pipeline SMS provides the umbrella framework for continuously improving safety and developing a strong safety culture vital to achieving the goal of zero incidents.

Emergency Preparedness

Pipeline operators limit the impact to the environment if a release does occur by maintaining rapid response capabilities. Operators have extensive emergency response plans that must be approved by the federal and state governments and shared with local authorities. Companies train their employees to these plans and regularly practice their response plans to ensure they are properly prepared to respond to a pipeline incident.

Also, within the framework of API RP 1173, the pipeline industry, along with federal and state regulators, have developed a number of other pertinent best practices related to pipeline emergency response, including API RP 1174, Onshore Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Emergency Preparedness and Response. Published in December 2015, the RP will help pipeline operators achieve their mission of conducting an efficient and safe response in the event of an incident or spill.

The six fundamental steps of API RP 1174 are intended to align the expectations, practices and competencies of industry, government and emergency response organizations to ensure a response is carried out safely and rapidly. Publishing the RP wasn’t the final step as API conducted several webinars with pipeline operators, regulators and interested stakeholders to discuss implementation of API RP 1174 as a framework for companies’ individual response plans.

Leak Detection

Along with emergency response guidance, the pipeline industry recently developed new guidelines for establishing a holistic leak-detection program to help operators quickly identify leaks and shut down their systems to minimize the size and consequence should an event occur. API RP 1175, Pipeline Leak Detection – Program Management, comes from a request from PHMSA to provide industry guidance on establishing and maintaining a leak-detection program.

The RP provides guidance on building a leak-detection program comprised of the appropriate leak-detection systems, whether it is computational pipeline monitoring (CPM), real-time transient model (RTTM) or another method. In addition to providing tactical guidance that ensures an alarm management system is in place, RP 1175 ensures operators have a leak-detection culture established through ongoing management commitment to giving employees confidence in making a decision if a leak is suspected.

Similar to the effort with API RP 1174, a team of operators is working with API to ensure the industry is taking the next step to implement API RP 1175 into a holistic leak-detection program. 

Managing Pipeline Cracks

Published in July 2016, API RP 1176, Assessment and Management of Cracking in Pipelines, helps pipeline operators identify and address potential cracks. The RP reflects the industry’s best practices surrounding the major types of pipeline cracking, including environmental, manufacturing defects, mechanical damage, construction defect and fatigue.

To properly assess and manage potential cracks, the RP outlines five core disciplines to better predict and prevent pipeline failures due to cracking, as well as the best technology, analysis and modeling to diagnose pipeline cracks. The RP is flexible enough to allow operators to customize crack-management programs to match their construction materials, techniques and operating conditions.

The pipeline industry’s development of API RPs 1173, 1174, 1175 and 1176 represent its commitment to continuous improvement and safety as the highest priority.

Under the framework of Pipeline Safety Management Systems, these best practices highlight the strong collaboration between operators, regulators and stakeholders to collectively achieve the goal of zero incidents. For more information on API recommended practices, visit www.PipelineSMS.org or the API Publications Store.

API, along with the Association of Oil Pipe Lines (AOPL), last month released the pipeline industry’s 2017-2019 Pipeline Safety Excellence Strategic Plan and 2016 Performance Report summarizing the industry’s track record on pipeline safety and outlining the steps being taken by pipeline operators to advance safety efforts throughout the pipeline supply chain.

“Pipelines are one of the safest and most efficient ways to transport liquid energy,” said API Pipeline Manager David Murk. “While nearly 100% of crude and petroleum products reach their destination safely, the industry remains committed to zero incidents. Strategic planning and the establishment of long-term goals will be critical for continuous, industry-wide pipeline safety improvements.”

In 2016, the number of incidents dropped by 10% from 2015 levels. The Strategic Plan and Performance Report acknowledges areas for improvement and where challenges remain; highlights the public benefits of pipelines; and explains the extensive protections taken by pipeline operators to protect the public and the environment.

“This plan will help drive advances in pipeline safety technology, strengthen emergency preparedness and response planning, and encourage the adoption of holistic pipeline safety management systems,” said Murk.

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