‘Excited’ about safety management systems, Washington Gas sees standards as tools
August 8, 2016
By Sarah Smith
No gas utility or pipeline wants to make headlines for the wrong reasons.
The process of keeping their systems safe and reliable in the Northeast, however, is a sometimes decades-long slog through century-old systems that can test even the best operators and contractors.
At Washington Gas Light Co., rules and standards that promote a more holistic approach to risk evaluation have helped pave the way for regulatory approval of safety programs that the company hopes will “continuously improve” its systems.
“Pipeline safety is the protector or the foundation of customer and public safety,” said Tracy Townsend, Washington Gas’ vice president of construction, compliance and safety.
In an interview in Springfield, Va., Townsend said she has seen a material uptick in pipeline safety-related activities in recent years. Much of that increase, she said, was driven by a heightened focus on tying together disparate sets of information that made clearer what risks existed on a system.
One of the latest major additions to the suite of big-picture pipeline guidance is safety management systems — comprehensive business programs designed to help entities understand and mitigate risks. The American Petroleum Institute adopted safety management systems as recommended practice, or RP 1173, in mid-2015.
“I’m excited … 1173 is going to give us an opportunity to be very documented and structured and disciplined,” Townsend said. “We are actually participating in the pilot program for [pipeline safety management systems], so we will be voluntarily implementing elements of 1173 prior to it being mandated.”
She drew some parallels between safety management systems and the distribution integrity management, or DIMP, regulations that the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration finalized in late 2009.
DIMP gave Washington Gas a clear mandate for holistically evaluating risks and a template for persuading regulators and legislators of the need for expedited system upgrades.
“Our DIMP plans are certainly the basis for those accelerated replacement programs. We did all of the analytics on knowing your system, and so we identified things as risks or threats,” Townsend said, noting that Washington Gas’ work with regulators and legislators has helped get accelerated pipeline-replacement programs approved.
RP 1173 goes beyond a company’s physical system, though. It incorporates elements of safety culture as well, and was designed as an iterative, introspective process. Townsend said she does not yet know what new priorities she will be able to present to state regulators as a result of the recommended practice.
“I’m sure there will be things that will be a result [of RP 1173],” Townsend said. “We’ll take a look at things we already have in play, and we’ll do a gap analysis and then we’ll chart a course of action associated with that gap analysis.”
Progress and planning
Across the company’s three jurisdictions — Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Maryland — Washington Gas is working on a series of accelerated pipeline-replacement programs.
With 14 years left in the company’s Virginia pipeline-replacement program, the utility is slated to replace roughly 400 miles of main and more than 97,000 service lines, while in Maryland, the company has 20 more years to replace 557 miles of main and nearly 64,000 services lines, Townsend said. In D.C., the company’s accelerated work is just beginning. Washington Gas is in the first year of a 40-year program and plans to replace about 490 miles of main and 36,000 service lines.
In fiscal 2016 alone, Washington Gas intends to replace 50 miles of main and about 12,000 service lines, she said.
From 2004 to 2014, the company’s miles of at-risk pipe — unprotected steel, iron and copper — fell from 2,520 to 2,355, representing a 6.5% decrease, while the utility added 5,588 miles of plastic pipe, reflecting a 42.7% increase in plastic mileage.
Some high-profile incidents have revealed that knowing a pipe’s characteristics does not necessarily ensure its safety. The 2014 New York City gas explosion in Consolidated Edison Co. of New York Inc.’s Harlem service territory involved a 2011 plastic pipe. The National Transportation Safety Board found that a faulty plastic pipe fusion was largely to blame for the incident that killed eight people.
In March, a Seattle gas explosion that injured at least nine people happened on Puget Sound Energy Inc.’s system, which does not include any unprotected steel or iron lines.
Townsend said WGL Holdings Inc. subsidiary Washington Gas takes a number of steps to avoid introducing problems into the system amid the massive pipeline-replacement push. In addition to long-term partnerships with contractors and a focus on operator qualifications, the utility also has a system for non-punitive reporting that allows workers to raise concerns without facing retribution, she said.
“It’s my job to figure out how we’re going to continuously improve in pipeline safety,” Townsend said.
Industry Embraces New Pipeline Safety Framework July 8, 2015 – The American Petroleum Institute announced a new pipeline safety management system standard. This new standard which was built on the industry goal of zero incidents was created with engagement and guidance from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), and other key stakeholders to further enhance pipeline safety.
“Pipelines are safe and efficient, but we are always looking for new ways to make them better, which is why industry is embracing this new standard,” said API Midstream Director Robin Rorick. “It’s also a great example of what can be done when industry, regulators and all key stakeholders work together to achieve a common objective, which is to protect the public, the environment and provide the fuels Americans need.”
API developed and published Recommended Practice 1173 under its American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredited process and is the American National Standard (ANS) on the subject of pipeline safety management systems. API’s rigorous process is open, transparent and ensures that the best minds from government, academia, the public and industry fully participate in the development of API standards.
“We continue to be committed to safety and this standard raises that bar even further,” said Rorick. “This new standard gives operators a holistic framework to identify and address safety concerns for a pipeline’s entire life cycle.”
API thanked the NTSB and PHMSA for their guidance and cooperation in creating RP 1173. The RP will build upon existing safety requirements to further monitor and measure the effectiveness of pipeline activities with a “plan, do, check, and act” philosophy that requires periodic reviews and applies changes or corrections to activities as needed.
API RP 1173 and Pipeline Safety Management Systems were also featured in a July 2015 article on www.PipelinesInternational.com titled “A New Standards for Achieving Zero Pipeline Incidents.”
AOPL Press Release: Pipeline Operators Announce New Pipeline Safety Tool July 8, 2015 – Today, pipeline operators announced successful completion of a new, jointly developed tool to improve pipeline safety. The API 1173 Recommended Practice for Pipeline Safety Management Systems will provide pipeline operators a comprehensive way to make safe operations and continuous safety improvement a constant focus of their operations.
Used successfully in the aviation, chemical production, refining, and nuclear power industries, safety management systems provide a formal framework to monitor, measure and improve safety performance continuously over time.
After a pipeline incident in Marshall, MI, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board recommended the pipeline industry build on the success of other industries and develop its own safety management system. Pipeline operators and regulators worked together over 2 years through sometimes contentious discussions to agree upon the final document text. The final document achieved consensus agreement of participating regulators, operators and members of the public that adopting this recommended practice would represent a step change in pipeline safety improvement.
“The liquids pipeline industry is embracing pipeline safety management systems as a comprehensive and holistic way to improve pipeline safety even further,” said Andy Black, Association of Oil Pipe Lines President & CEO.
The recommended practice was formally adopted under the American Petroleum Institute standard setting practice accredited by the American National Standards Institute and meeting essential requirements for openness, balance, consensus and due process. The focus now shifts to implementation where the pipeline industry will encourage, educate and assist its member operators with their own implementation of the recommended practice.
Participants developing the API 1173 Recommended Practice for Pipeline Safety Management Systems included: Alliance Pipeline, American Gas Association, American Petroleum Institute, American Public Gas Association, Arizona Corporation Commission, Association of Oil Pipe Lines, Buckeye Partners, City of Ellensberg, WA, Enbridge Pipeline, Explorer Pipeline, ExxonMobil Pipeline Co, Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, Kinder Morgan, National Association of Pipeline Safety Representatives, Pacific Gas & Electric, Public Representatives Stacey Gerard and Bill Hoyle, Southwest Gas, Spectra Energy, U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, U.S. Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and the Virginia Corporation Commission.