One Thursday in June 2011, a bland-sounding description of a new U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration regulation appeared in the Federal Register.
“This rule expedites the program implementation deadlines in the Control Room Management/Human Factors regulations,’’ the summary read, “in order to realize the safety benefits sooner than established in the original rule.’’
What few people outside the oil and gas pipeline industry would know was that this the government’s response to one of the worst inland oil spills in U.S. history: the July 2010 rupture of a pipeline that released more than 20,000 barrels of diluted bitumen into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. Total cleanup costs exceeded $1 billion, and the accident triggered $180 million in fines, penalties, and settlements for the pipeline operator.
Most of the cited violations involved decisions in the pipeline operator control room, where alarms were sounding for 18 hours before an employee on the ground in Michigan confirmed diluted bitumen was leaking. National Transportation Safety Board investigators found control-room operators thought the alarms were possibly being caused by a bubble in the pipeline and decided to increase flow pressure for several hours inside the pipeline to clear a suspected blockage. That, of course, only worsened the spill, the environmental damage, and the ultimate fines and penalties.
PHMSA’s conclusion was that regulations about control room operator training and emergency planning–regulations that had been published in 2009–needed to be accelerated sharply. PHMSA took the unusual step of ordering the rule implemented 16 to 18 months faster than first planned.
The point of this story? For pipeline operators looking to ensure their staff are fully informed and trained to comply with safety violations and avoid massive fines, it’s critical to know the “why” behind the “what” of new pipeline safety regulations.
In this case, it’s one thing for pipeline safety personnel to read that PHMSA is requiring operators to “amend their existing written operations and maintenance procedures, operator qualification programs, and emergency plans.” When they understand that this is an emergency, accelerated order by the government in direct response to a costly pipeline disaster, the importance of understanding and complying with the regulation becomes far clearer and more compelling.
With a generation of front-line oil and gas pipeline inspectors and safety experts rapidly moving into retirement each month, U.S. and Canadian pipeline operators urgently need to train new inspectors and technicians.
TRC is excited about leading this education effort with a new three and a half day training session we’re offering to operators, starting in Houston on July 25-28. Our training team includes senior executives who have trained all 2,700 state and federal pipeline safety inspectors, as well as 1,000 private-sector pipeline managers and staff. Our focus is on making these classes as in-depth, granular, and specific as we can, with attendees leaving with a clear playbook they can use during every shift they work.
Having been on the front lines of how hundreds of pipeline safety regulations have been developed, amended, and enforced for 30 years, TRC looks forward to the role we can play as educators. We are committed to ensuring everyone with a front-line safety responsibility at an oil and gas pipeline operator knows what they have to do every day to maintain safe, reliable operations in compliance with PHMSA and local regulations–and why those regulations were written and must be complied with.
After Houston, TRC plans its next course on September 12-15, and is planning additional courses for natural gas local distribution companies in the New York-New England region. For more information about enrolling in these classes, please visit the Training website or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.