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Achieving Pipeline Quality Standards

Achieving Pipeline Quality Standards

May 28, 2019 | Jordan Smallwood

Regardless of your views on climate change, one thing is certain – unprecedented weather conditions are exposing the cracks in our nation’s infrastructure. Everything from roads and bridges, to public transportation and utilities are being pushed to capacity through continued use and weather patterns that cause these key infrastructural pieces to erode at a more rapid rate.  

Take, for example, the Energy Transfer Partners LP (ETP) pipeline explosion in western Pennsylvania. Through a combination of what officials described as “torrential rain and saturated ground”, a landslide occurred that caused a section of ETP’s Revolution pipeline to explode. The explosion led to 1,500 people losing power and because of debris from the explosion, one home being damaged. What made the explosion more egregious was that upon further investigation, ETP hadn’t met all of its permit requirements. Other unreported landslides and general erosion issues increased the potential for pollution in the surrounding areas. 

That begs the question – how could something like this happen? On its face, many would point to gross negligence, but in reality, these types of issues aren’t unique to ETP. With most pipeline companies, there are countless moving parts, interdependencies, and workflows associated with day to day operations. In the typical corporate environment, miscommunication usually leads to a terse email. But in the pipeline industry, a miscommunication not only can disrupt workflows, but also prevent companies from properly addressing reported or discovered issues. To help mitigate these risks, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), with the American Petroleum Institute (API), developed American National Standards Institute/API Recommended Practice 1173. This practice introduced safety management system standards to reveal and manage risk, promote a learning environment, and constantly strive to improve pipeline safety. 

Adhering to those standards might have avoided the tragic PSNC pipeline explosion in Durham. A possible error in marking dig locations caused a pipeline to be ruptured by a digging crew. If there was indeed an error in marking utility lines, it’s safe to assume that this wasn’t the first time this happened, which points to a lack of traceability in the company’s auditing and investigation process. 

These stories underscore a prominent truth. As an organization, two keys to meeting quality and safety standards boil down to achieving maximum traceability and reliability. 

Traceability 

Whenever you lose something, a common practice is to retrace your steps. It’s much of the same with maintaining a culture of safety and risk mitigation. When issues occur like the explosion in Durham, the ability to retrace steps in the workflow to see where the disconnect was in marking digging sites could ensure that a similar mistake doesn’t happen again. Traceability also allows safety and quality managers to isolate steps in the process for refinement, optimization, or deprecation. 

Reliability 

In all operationalized and/or regulated industries, consistency and reliability are among the best compliments a business can receive. To ensure reliability, setting KPI’s for even the smallest of tasks can ensure consistently achieving high quality results. Supporting those KPI initiatives with documentation that can be shared across the organization can ensure that the workforce understands what it needs to do, why it’s important, and how employees’ individual efforts translate to total company success. 

Following these practices can be more difficult than necessary since many pipeline companies are still using paper-based or manual processes. Anyone who has tried to keep track of their child’s homework papers can attest to the high likelihood that anything on paper can fall through the cracks. By adopting a digitally supported safety management system, pipeline companies can avoid disasters like the ones mentioned above. 

This is where DevonWay has proven over the years to be a perfect partner for pipeline companies engaging in digital transformation, while re-evaluating their safety standards and processes. Consolidating your processes into a single platform that streamlines your operations while achieving compliance with rapidly changing market pressures and regulations provides a transformative effect on your bottom line—all while improving safety, reliability, and cost efficiency—and often with an ROI of less than a year. 

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