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  • Writer's pictureNathan Hammer

Pipeline Safety Insights - Identification, Preparedness, and Awareness

In a 2022 warning letter from PHMSA, an operator was cited for several probable violations that provide valuable lessons for the pipeline industry. Let's dive into the issues identified and discuss potential punch-list tips to help your operations review current op's and give you peace of mind: 

Emergency Response Preparedness 

The warning letter highlighted the importance of having readily identifiable emergency shutdown devices (ESDs) at pumping stations. Inconsistent signage and labeling made it difficult for personnel to quickly locate and operate these critical safety devices during an emergency scenario.

Punch-list Tips from PSR: 

  • Conduct a comprehensive review of all ESD locations across the entire pipeline system and associated facilities. Assess the current signage, labeling, and markings to identify areas needing improvement for clear identification.

  • Develop and implement a standardized approach to ESD marking and signage that ensures high visibility and instant recognition, even in high-stress situations. This could include using consistent colors, symbols, and wording that align with industry best practices.

  • Provide hands-on refresher training to all relevant personnel, emphasizing the importance of prompt ESD activation and practicing the required steps. Consider incorporating realistic simulations or field exercises to reinforce the training.

Emergency Response Training 

The operator failed to review personnel performance in meeting emergency response training objectives within the required intervals, as mandated by regulations. Maintaining a well-trained workforce is crucial for effective emergency preparedness and response.

Punch-list Tips from PSR:

  • Implement a centralized learning management system or training database to track and monitor all emergency response training requirements, completion dates, and renewal timelines for each individual employee.

  • Establish automated reminders and notifications to ensure training is completed within the prescribed intervals, and overdue training is promptly addressed.

  • Periodically review training program curricula and evaluation criteria to ensure alignment with current regulations, industry best practices, and real-world incident scenarios. Update training materials and methods accordingly.

  • Incorporate comprehensive performance evaluations, including tabletop exercises, drills, and simulations, to assess personnel's ability to apply training effectively in various emergency situations.

Public Awareness Program 

The warning letter highlighted the need to conduct public awareness programs in languages commonly understood by significant non-English speaking populations within the operator's area. Effective communication is vital for public safety and awareness.

Punch-list Tips from PSR:

  • Conduct a detailed demographic analysis across the entire pipeline corridor to identify communities with significant non-English speaking populations. Consider factors such as census data, local government reports, and community outreach efforts.

  • Translate all public awareness materials, including brochures, fact sheets, and online resources, into the relevant languages identified in the demographic analysis. Ensure the translations are accurate, culturally appropriate, and easily understandable.

  • Implement proactive distribution strategies to ensure these translated materials reach the intended audiences. This could involve partnerships with local organizations, community centers, places of worship, and other trusted entities within the non-English speaking communities.

  • Explore alternative communication channels, such as ethnic media outlets, social media platforms, and community events, to enhance outreach and engagement with diverse populations effectively.

High Consequence Area (HCA) Identification 

The operator failed to effectively demonstrate, through risk assessment, that certain pipeline segments could not affect HCAs. Accurate HCA identification is crucial for implementing appropriate integrity management measures.

Punch-list Tips from PSR:

  • Conduct a comprehensive review of the risk assessment methodologies used for HCA identification, with a focus on ensuring that all potential pathways, including smaller water crossings, drainage systems, and other hydrological features, are appropriately considered.

  • Leverage the latest high-resolution geospatial data sources, such as high-accuracy digital elevation models, high-resolution hydrography datasets, and up-to-date land use/cover data, to improve the precision of HCA delineation.

  • Implement advanced modeling techniques, such as two-dimensional hydraulic modeling or coupled overland flow-channel routing models, to better understand the potential spread of released products and their impact on HCAs, particularly in complex terrain or urban environments.

  • Establish a rigorous process for regularly reviewing and updating HCA analyses to account for changes in pipeline conditions, environmental factors, population patterns, and any new data or information that may affect the risk profile. IMPLEMENT A MANAGEMENT OF CHANGE (MOC) SYSTEM, EVEN IF YOU AREN'T REQUIRED TO YET!

Integrity Management Program 

The warning letter cited the operator for not basing the assessment and evaluation schedule on all relevant risk factors, as well as failing to prioritize pipeline segments based on risk. A robust integrity management program should be risk-informed and prioritize resources effectively.

Punch-list Tips from PSR:

  • Develop a comprehensive risk assessment framework that incorporates all relevant risk factors outlined in the regulations, as well as any additional factors specific to the operator's system and operating environment. This should include threats such as equipment failure, incorrect operations, environmental factors, and potential consequences.

  • Implement a structured risk modeling approach that integrates data from various sources, including integrity assessments, incident history, leak detection systems, and environmental monitoring, to quantify and prioritize risks across the entire pipeline system.

  • Establish a risk-based methodology for determining appropriate assessment intervals and evaluation frequencies for each pipeline segment and facility, ensuring that higher-risk areas receive more frequent and thorough evaluations.

  • Regularly review and update the risk assessment and prioritization processes to reflect changes in operational conditions, emerging threats, new data or information, and lessons learned from incidents or near-misses.

  • Allocate resources, such as personnel, equipment, and budget, based on the prioritized risk levels, ensuring that higher-risk areas receive appropriate attention and investment.

By learning from these findings and proactively addressing the identified areas of improvement, operators can enhance their overall safety posture, regulatory compliance, and preparedness for effectively managing pipeline risks and emergencies.

As always, Premier Safety Resources is here for your pipeline safety consulting, training, and project management needs. Send an email to for any questions or to schedule a free consultation call. 

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