Pipelines are the safest and most reliable means of transporting large volumes of crude oil, natural gas and liquid petroleum products over long distances.
However, no pipeline is completely risk-free. Unfortunately, incidents do occur occasionally. When this happens, pipeline operators are trained and required to manage these emergency situations.
In Canada, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA) works to improve pipeline safety, regulatory engagement, transparency and sustainability of the industry in Canada.
Here are five practices recommended to maintain safe pipelines:
1. Knowing where the pipelines are
Because they are underground, pipelines are mostly invisible. The first step to ensuring the safety of nearby communities is for them to know where pipelines are.
- Warning signs/markers are the first line of defense ensuring community safety. Pipelines companies place large, colourful warning signs along the pipeline route. These warning signs are critical to reducing risks to community safety, and they are required by federal and various provincial regulators, to protecting public safety.
- Right-of-ways are the tracts of land above buried pipelines. Pipeline companies acquire the right to use the land for construction, operation, inspection and maintenance of their pipelines, but do not usually own the land. Right-of-ways identify an area where certain activities are prohibited to protect the public and the integrity of the pipeline.
2. Making sure that pipelines are operating properly
Pipeline integrity means that the pipeline and all its related components are running properly. When pipelines are not operating properly, it poses a risk to public safety as well as pipeline-company employees and other workers. Because pipeline safety is the top priority, pipeline integrity is crucial to the pipeline business.
Pipelines move large quantities of natural gas, crude oil and petroleum products. As with any physical infrastructure, pipelines can develop leaks or even rupture — these qualify as failures in pipeline integrity. Loss of pipeline integrity can result in leaks of crude oil or natural gas, which can negatively impact the public and the natural environment.
Pipeline integrity is maintained through proper design and construction, monitoring and inspections and maintenance protocols.
3. Preventing damage to pipelines
Damage to pipelines caused by construction and excavation activities poses a significant risk to public safety, but is entirely avoidable.
Damage caused by third party excavation around pipelines is one of the most common causes of pipeline damage. Damage prevention is all about pipeline companies working with those who routinely dig and excavate to reduce the chance of damage to the pipeline. Pipelines companies routinely work alongside the excavating community, developers, municipal works departments as well as individual contractors.
4. Minimizing impacts in case of an incident
A pipeline emergency is an unforeseen incident that could endanger the health, safety or welfare of the public and the environment.
An emergency response plan (ERP) outlines the necessary steps and decisions required to manage an emergency situation. It contains specific steps that the pipeline operator must take in order to control the incident. Pipeline operators are expected to have ERPs in place by the regulator, whose role is to review and audit these plans.
With an effective ERP in place, the chances of long-term impacts on the community and the environment are greatly reduced.
5. Getting the right data to take the right decision
Identifying, mitigating and managing risks is the key to maintaining safe pipelines. That can be achieved if you manage the right information.
IsoMetrix provides the oil and gas industry with specialised solutions for the management of Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC). Offering a comprehensive suite of solutions across the enterprise, from social management through to health, safety, environment, sustainability, risk, compliance and audit, IsoMetrix is the ideal GRC tool across the full lifecycle of an oil and gas project.
An integrated GRC System will allow you to:
- manage safety protocols
- identify all safety hazards and ensure that the risks inherent to these are mitigated
- record and investigate all incidents, injuries, near misses and non-conformances
- analyse trends so that effective preventive and corrective measures can be put in place
- carry out regular audits and inspections.
About the Author
Benoit Froment was appointed as Director: North America for Metrix Software Solutions in October 2015. Benoit is responsible for leading the IsoMetrix operations in the US and Canada, including Sales and Marketing, Implementation and Customer Support. He is also an IsoMetrix Subject Matter Expert in Social Sustainability.