Pipelines – Making an example: Enbridge and the Feds

12 May 2014

pipelineThe Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is not through making an example of Enbridge over the Kalamazoo River spill.  The EPA and NTSB have both weighed in on the spill and now the PHMSA has hauled them to the “front of the class” to make an example of them to all other pipeline companies in the nation.
The overall message is one of continuous self-evaluation and improvement – something that PHMSA appears to think that Enbridge did not do.  In a recent Federal Register Notice, the PHMSA said that other pipeline operators can learn from Enbridge’s experience including:

Integrity Management
Operators must understand the unique attributes of their pipeline systems to have a robust IM program to match and use the right tools, set the proper assessment schedule and identify additional measures needed to protect pipeline integrity. The PHMSA also says that operators must go beyond simply assessing pipeline segments and repairing defects by implementing a continuous risk analysis and reassessment process. This means taking lessons learned on one pipeline, including those lessons learned by vendors, and applying them to every other pipeline.

Control Center Operations
Control room teams must be trained as teams to recognize and respond to emergency and unexpected conditions. If an operator suffers an unexplained loss of product, the PHMSA says that the operator should shut down the affected pipeline until the problem is resolved. Operators should additionally assess the performance of their leak detection system following a product release and identify and implement appropriate improvements.

Public Awareness Programs
Operators are to periodically self assess and evaluate the effectiveness of their public awareness programs and whether local emergency response agencies are prepared to identify and respond to early indications of a spill which can help minimize a spill’s impacts.

The PHMSA’s message is half “post-mortem” and half warning to the regulated community that they better step up their game. One would suspect that the next pipeline failure will be in for more severe treatment than Enbridge because, after all, the PHMSA warned them in May of 2014.

On the other side, the PHMSA got its own comeuppance on Friday as the Department of Transportation Auditor General released its own report concluding that the PHMSA’s State evaluators missed many  instances of non-compliance. The audit recommended changes to PHMSA’s program including regular reviews and analysis of what the States are doing and including:

  •  Revising the PHMSA staffing formula to account for risks and non-standard conditions requiring inspections;
  • Develop minimum training standards for State inspector qualifications, including standards for times all inspection types and improve PHMSA training so that federal staff can be sure the States are properly conducting their inspections;
  • Develop procedures to annually review the adequacy of inspection procedures;
  • Provide comprehensive guidance to ensure States effectively implement PHMSA’s risk analysis methods for inspection scheduling.

In short, while PHMSA called out Enbridge as an example to other pipelines, the DOT called on PHMSA to do even more to ensure that the States are policing pipelines more vigorously.

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