API to issue recommended practice to address pipeline safety

The American Petroleum Institute expects to issue a new recommended practice in another few weeks that addresses pipeline safety issues, but the trade association is equally working on challenges involving rail and maritime transportation, said Robin Rorick, API midstream and industry operations director.

“Wherever there’s infrastructure, the industry will use it,” Rorick said. “As an industry, there’s no single form of transportation that’s preferable. We’ll take what’s available, and work with the operators to make certain it’s as safe as possible.”

Recommended Practice 1173 (RP 1173) will focus on creating a safety culture for pipelines from a company’s chief executive down to construction workers and control room operators, Rorick told reporters at a July 1 luncheon at API’s headquarters.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which asked API to develop the RP, and the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which regulates US oil and gas pipeline operations, have been heavily involved, Rorick said.

Pipeline integrity turned back into a prominent issue when a Plains All American (PAA) pipeline ruptured on May 19 north of Santa Barbara, Calif., and leaked 1,700-2,400 bbl at Refugio Beach State Park on the coast (OGJ Online, May 20, 2015).

US House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders from both parties sent letters to PAA Chief Executive Officer Greg Armstrong, seeking more information about the pipeline’s integrity and operations, and to White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Shaun Donovan as well as PHMSA Interim Executive Director Stacy Cummings seeking an update on why more provisions of the 2011 Pipeline Safety Act have not been implemented (OGJ Online, June 26, 2015).

“The industry is not going to wait for it to be fully implemented,” Rorick said of the regulations PHMSA developed that have languished at OMB for months. “RPs are a good thing for the industry to coalesce around and develop recommended procedures and practices to improve operations in the meantime. In this instance, there’s a lot of variability about the size of pipelines and companies that operate them. We have in our industry the people who are most familiar with how pipelines work.”

Oil and gas pipeline operators would like to see PHMSA’s safety regulations as soon as possible, Rorick said, adding that he hoped they would be more performance-based than prescriptive because experience has shown simply mandating rules and procedures merely leads to supervisors and employees checking boxes off on a form instead of remaining alert for signs of trouble.

“Automatic shutoff valves also are not the panacea for liquid pipelines that some claim,” Rorick said. “They can shut down by themselves in certain conditions, causing pressure to build that can lead to an incident.” Manual and remote shutoff valves should remain an option, he said.

Rail and maritime transportation safety poses different challenges because oil and gas companies don’t own the trains and vessels, Rorick said. “Our members are working closely with railroads on accident prevention, mitigation, and response. It’s also possible that some of the corrosion prevention techniques pipeline operators might be applied to train tracks.”

When it comes to the maritime segment, API is looking closest at inland and coastal waterway infrastructure which receives public funding similar to highways, Rorick said. “Maintaining locks and dams is challenging since most of them were built in the 1940s and ‘50s,” he said. “Shipping companies are light-loading because several channels aren’t adequately dredged.”

The US oil production renaissance has increased inland waterway petroleum traffic dramatically, he said. “As channels fill with silt and grow shallower, collisions are becoming an issue, particularly along the Gulf and East Coasts,” he said.

Water resources development legislation has been introduced in Congress, he said, adding that API supports it since it contains provisions to address waterway maintenance problems, but its prospects for passage in the current Congress aren’t good.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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