January 2022, Vol. 249, No. 1


Responding to Failures with 4-Step ACER Analysis for Operators

By David Futch, PE, ADV Integrity, Inc.  

Integrity management is typically seen as a preventative measure meant to manage the risks present on any given pipeline and avoid failures.  

However, with many factors posing a consistent and constant threat to the operation of pipeline systems – including manufacturing defects, human error, system corrosion, or damage from a third party – knowing how to address failures when worst-case scenarios happen is vital for continual improvement of any pipeline integrity management program.   

Unfortunately, no two failures are exactly alike, which makes knowing how to respond more complicated and critical when the need arises.   

For when the worst happens, operators should prepare appropriate and compliant procedures for their response to failures. However, addressing this need can be challenging and difficult to proactively manage because failures, by nature, can be extremely unpredictable, both in how they occur and when they occur.  

The four-step ACER (Action, Collection, Evaluation and Report) approach is a comprehensive framework for addressing, testing and moving forward with safer, more efficient and more reliable integrity management after a failure happens. The approach accounts for the perspectives of key stakeholders, including operators and regulators, to effectively address the objectives and concerns of each party.   

Plan of Action   

The first step in an ACER approach is to establish a plan of action for addressing the failure upfront. A common mistake in failure responses is not establishing a plan at the outset for the response procedures. According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), a properly formulated plan can be key to preventing an inefficient failure analysis response.   

In addition to contacting all involved parties associated with the failure, the plan should include certain elements to ensure regulatory compliance. These elements include sample collection and documentation, a detailed removal process for the failure section of the pipeline, a relocation and transfer of custody logistical plan, and guidance for the measurement and nondestructive examination of the sample.  

Once the failure occurs, the series of actions laid out in the prepared plan will be executed. Following the detailed procedures formed at the outset, operators will have a more effective and efficient approach to their response.   


Collecting all relevant information about the failure is the second step in the ACER approach. This information should include background about the pipeline system that allows involved parties to understand the circumstances under which the pipe section failed.   

A sound collection process includes visually documenting the sample both at the site and at the testing facility with multiple photographs. According to the PHMSA Metallurgical Laboratory Failure Examination Protocol, this documentation includes, but is not limited to, information about local topography, the coating in the area of failure, internal or external corrosion and residues or corrosion products around the failed section.   

The outcome of this stage should include a comprehensive set of data about the failed section’s history, background information about the failure, and information about the operating environment. Overall, this documentation should provide a detailed report for investigators, operators and testers to understand the specifications and technicalities of the failure.  

Tracking and adhering to proper collection processes requires detailed management and careful attention. Resources – such as the Collection Guide and Chain of Custody developed by ADV Integrity – can walk the end user through the proper collection, relocation, protection and transportation procedures of the sample to ensure regulatory compliance.   


The testing protocol that is established to address the failure should be customized to the situation and based on knowledge of pipeline degradation mechanisms for testing the samples. The purpose of the testing is to determine the root cause of the failure to develop appropriate remediation procedures. The testing protocol should, at a minimum, include the following:  

  • Nondestructive testing  
  • Measurements of line pipe characteristics and geometry  
  • Fractographic examination  
  • Metallographic examination  
  • Mechanical testing  

This testing protocol will develop and evolve naturally as the findings of each task are determined. One goal of this stage is to determine recognized failure mode or modes that contributed to the failure.   

Recognized failure modes according to ASME B31.8S include external corrosion, internal corrosion, stress corrosion cracking, manufacturing-related defects, welding/fabrication-related faults, equipment, third-party/mechanical damage, incorrect operations, and weather-related/outside force. Each of these failure modes have distinct visual and metallurgical queues that are observed during observation and examination.  

Final Report   

After performing the customized testing protocol, a report should be developed that comprehensively summarizes the information relevant to the failure. In this step, key next steps will be developed to address and move forward from the failure.   

As a significant part of this step, the report will have to consider the various perspectives of the stakeholders involved with the failure. From this report, operators should have the information they need to make future asset integrity and management decisions. The report should also include all the information regulators need to understand the circumstances of the failure and the response of the operator.  


The four-step process is customizable to the specific needs and situation of the operator, so it can be used for a variety of complex failure analysis challenges. In any situation, an important element of this process is establishing trust between operators and metallurgical assessment providers. Appropriately responding to failures with the ACER approach requires this type of relationship to operate correctly and efficiently.    

Author: David Futch, PE, is the director of Materials Engineering at ADV Integrity and the developer of the four-step process to provide failure analysis and metallurgical assessment services to operators. He specializes in metallurgical assessment, failure analysis and welding consultations for pipeline operators. He has performed over 100 pipeline failure analyses. He can be reached at David.Futch@advintegrity.com.  

Related Articles


{{ error }}
{{ comment.comment.Name }} • {{ comment.timeAgo }}
{{ comment.comment.Text }}