Category Archives: DOT

Millennium Pipeline clears safety check

Millennium Pipeline has been given the go-ahead to return to full service, company officials said, after a natural gas leak led to a government investigation that uncovered missing weld inspection records. While the records weren’t located, new weld inspections were conducted to verify the integrity of four “suspect” welds that raised the ire of federal officials for inadequate paperwork.

“Our integrity confirmations revealed that no additional anomalies were found, no weld defects of any kind were found. Our digs didn’t reveal anything out of the ordinary or unusual to be of concern.”

State and federal officials launched an investigation into the pipeline after a weld, located near the Broome-Tioga county border, sprung a leak on Jan. 11. The leak released an estimated 1.3 million cubic of feet of natural gas — enough to heat an average home in the Northeast for 18 years — before repairs were completed five days later.

The results of that investigation were released in a U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration document in July, which pointed to the three other welds in a 93-mile section of the Millennium system that were considered “suspect” because of missing inspection documents.

Between the leak and the recordkeeping deficiencies, the July PHMSA document expressed concerns about the integrity of the pipeline as a whole.

“Similar defects may also develop leaks and potentially lead to a rupture of the pipeline,” the federal document said.

Following the report, Millennium reduced pressure on the pipeline — which can reach a maximum of 1,200 pounds per square inch, but is normally lower — by 20 percent until the integrity of the welds could be verified.

On Sept. 21, Millennium and PHMSA reached a consent agreement, in which they agreed to conduct new testing to allay concerns about the welds by Dec. 31.

The consent agreement document identifies the “suspect” welds with approximate locations that would place all four in either western Tioga or eastern Broome counties.

Gibbon said the work was completed recently, and Millennium was given the green light to return to normal pressure in mid-October.

An estimated $500,000 to $600,000 in “pig testing” — a process in which camera equipment is shuttled through the pipeline to collect data from the inside — in addition to nine investigative digs provided information that was missing in the records.

The welds turned out to be OK, according to Gibbon.

“There were different places along the pipeline where they asked if we would please go through and get a visual to make sure that everything is okay, and it was” she said. “We submitted our findings back to PHMSA … and we’ve returned to normal pressures.”

‘Not a perfect system’
Richard Kuprewicz, a Bellingham, Wash.-based pipeline safety expert, said situations such as this are “not unusual.”

Pipeline operators are not required to conduct an X-ray inspection of every weld on a pipeline, even though it’s the best way to ensure the integrity of a weld.

On top of that, government agencies don’t typically look over the shoulder of pipeline operators during construction to make sure every single weld has an inspection record.

“Everyone thinks, especially during the construction, that there’s safety inspectors looking at this every step of the way,” he said. “They can’t be checking every weld or every record. There’s only a certain number of people.”

Case in point: Although the Millennium Pipeline gained government approval prior to going online in December 2008, PHMSA became aware of recordkeeping deficiencies only after the January leak.

“It’s not like it’s your car being built and there are quality controls,” Kuprewicz said. “It’s not a perfect system.”

Gibbon said Millennium takes “full responsibility” for the missing records, and has both revised its recordkeeping system and launched its own internal investigation.

“Even though we have modernized our system going forward, we’re going back and doing a very careful examination of where something could have slipped through the cracks,” she said.

PHMSA did not respond on Monday to questions about the agency’s records on inspection policies.


Stretching, Staffing and Pipeline Integrity Management

Pipeline Integrity Management
People who do not know MATCOR don’t yet recognize how highly qualified we all are in programmed corrosion prevention, and in reporting on the results

According to MATCOR’s Nick Judd, Houston-based corrosion engineer, “The company used to pick up less than 200 miles a year in pipeline integrity management (PIM) projects. Today, we are already doing more PIM; we’re growing to serve much more, and it’s no stretch to say we’ve got the capabilities.”

In deploying a broader range of experience-based capabilities, MATCOR knows that Pipeline Integrity Management is a crucial tool for operators and asset managers who have to do more in monitoring pipeline corrosion and assuring pipeline integrity. Judd maintains that MATCOR is present and accounted for in all the ways that reinforce the corporate theme, “Integrity that Works.”

“Today, everyone we hire is NACE-certified, starting with entry Level 1 and going through succeeding Levels 2 and 3,” he notes. “Our PIM professionals have to be Level 1 at least. We also staff with a mixture of graduate engineers in various disciplines and field-experienced personnel. Then we combine the two so we can go the extra distance for every PIM customer. Both Judd and MATCOR Executive Vice President Glenn Schreffler agree that the company’s personnel have to have both the “book learning” and the field experience to deliver effective PIM services.

“People who do not know MATCOR don’t yet recognize how highly qualified we all are in programmed corrosion prevention, and in reporting on the results,” says Judd.

The foundation is always NACE certification. Why? NACE has known for many years that there’s a need for supporting and reinforcing the integrity in corrosion prevention. NACE standards meet the needs of all segments of the infrastructure industry; they are written and approved by instructors and professors, government officials and regulatory experts, and especially by industry professionals…including some MATCOR experts. Judd maintains, “There need to be levels of testable knowledge leading to certification in corrosion, cathodic protection, and coatings and linings – this is part and parcel of our approach to PIM. So we make certain today that our technicians are NACE-certified by corporate mandate. Our internal OQ disciplines are just as rigorous.” (Judd is one of MATCOR’s Operator Qualification specialists as well.)

Integrity management of pipelines is an organized, integrated and comprehensive process that counters threats to pipeline safety. But as is now plain, PIM is about people. To be successful, MATCOR people not only meet widely recognized PIM standards but are able to apply them meticulously. “In PIM assignments, the crews I send out may have to meet weather challenges, or equipment difficulties – but never problems of applied knowledge or data acquisition or reporting.”

Effective PIM service delivery encompasses every one of the knowledge/data/reporting demands. “We carefully and successfully completed one ECDA (External Corrosion Detection Analysis) project for a very short segment of a customer’s pipelines, notes Judd. “We dotted every i, we crossed every t – we met and exceeded the expectations of the customer’s Corrosion Integrity Manager.”

“Even so, we were still pretty gratified when we got a callback from this customer, an opportunity to do more work, because our job performance was so good. Our new, larger project involves ICDA, (internal corrosion direct assessment), which also means extra computer modeling. I went over the PIM game plan with this customer and noted that we were going to need much more data to ensure success on this newer, large-scale project.”

“The customer agreed to help meet these requirements. And since he knows our data is superbly accurate, he is using the information we collect and analyze to revamp the alignment sheets on a 35-pipeline system.”

“This customer manager also feels that the MATCOR people working on this project understand the delicate differences among some of ‘his’ transportation system elements, which include gap and transmission mains, in-plant systems and distribution lines.”

“And for him – just as we’re doing for everyone now – MATCOR goes the extra distance, ensuring that we turn the data into analyses and report those within 48 hours of receiving the data.”

Whether MATCOR is conducting ECDAs, ICDAs, root cause analyses or ongoing maintenance and repair supervision, every element is documented and reported. So for MATCOR in PIM, there is an additional factor at work. “US Department of Transportation regulators are frequently on our sites,” says Judd, “closely monitoring how we actually conduct these processes and programs. We have an in-depth understanding of their reporting demands and we can use this savvy to help operators pass regulatory scrutiny with flying colors. It is one more level of reassurance – again supported by MATCOR’s multiple levels of experience and dedication to going the extra mile.”

For Judd, none of this is a stretch. His obligation to integrity reinforces the company’s. “Whenever I leave a meeting, I always want to be certain I have said the same things today that I said last year, and will continue to say next year, in terms of commitments made and delivered upon.”

“When MATCOR says, ‘We will do it,’ it’ll get done. Period.”

US Senate approves pipeline safety bill

The Senate unanimously approved a pipeline safety bill that stemmed from a spate of incidents, including last year’s deadly explosion in San Bruno, California.

The measure had been held up by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who lifted his hold after reaching agreement with Democrats to add a key recommendation from the National Transportation Safety Board.

Usually wary of regulatory oversight, Paul said he wanted to strengthen the legislation. His initial objection was that the bill was written before the NTSB completed its report on the San Bruno explosion, Paul said in a statement. “While I am in favor of as little regulation as necessary, if we are going to impose regulations, we should do it right,” he said.

But it does not include an NTSB recommendation to require automatic and remote-controlled shut-off valves on existing pipelines in heavily populated areas, a response to the nearly 95 minutes it took utility workers to manually shut off gas spewing from the San Bruno site. That requirement has faced industry opposition.

Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed state legislation to require automatic shut-off valves in vulnerable areas and ensure that gas companies pressure-test transmission lines in California.

“This is a huge step forward for the safety of pipelines and communities across the nation,” said Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), the measure’s chief sponsor. “This bill strengthens oversight and addresses long-standing safety issues that leave the public vulnerable to catastrophic pipeline accidents.”

The amended bill requires that older, untested pipes operating at high pressure — such as the one that exploded under San Bruno — be strength-tested to establish safe maximum operating pressures, Sen.Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said after the vote.

“Simply put, Californians shouldn’t have to worry about streets exploding under their feet because of lax safety regulations,” Feinstein said in a statement.

A similar measure awaits action in the House.


PG&E to replace 1,200 miles of plastic gas pipe

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. will undertake a multiyear effort to remove more than 1,200 miles of plastic pipeline that has been linked to numerous failures nationwide, including two explosions in Northern California in the past six weeks.

The company’s decision to replace the pre-1973 pipe, marks a departure from a policy that PG&E had reaffirmed as recently as last week to assess its natural gas-distribution system before deciding which lines to replace.

The replacement project is likely to run into the millions of dollars, although PG&E would give no cost estimate. The company is likely to ask the California Public Utilities Commission to pass the cost along to customers.

The plastic pipe is used in distribution systems that deliver gas to homes. The manufacturer of the pipe warned customers nearly three decades ago that pipe made before 1973 was prone to cracking and sudden failure.

In 1998, the National Transportation Safety Board, noting instances in which this particular pipe and other plastic pipes had ruptured, urged pipeline companies to assess their lines and replace those with problems.

Two blasts
PG&E set aside $1.5 million in customers’ money starting in 2009 to assess its plastic pipelines’ reliability, but spent only a fraction of that and made little progress on the studies.

Then, on Aug. 31, one of these specific plastic pipelines in Cupertino that had sprung numerous leaks filled a condominium with gas, which ignited minutes after the owner had left. The building was destroyed. Less than a month later, another line installed in 1981 in Roseville (Placer County) exploded beneath a commercial intersection, touching off a seven-hour fire. No one was hurt.

PG&E said last Friday that it would start replacing pre-1973 plastic lines as soon as next year, after it presents a plan to state regulators. The company expects to take more than three years to complete the work.

First on the list
In the meantime, PG&E will replace 12,000 feet of line around the condominium complex in Cupertino and a 400-foot piece at the site of the Roseville fire. It will also replace distribution pipe at a mobile home park in St. Helena where a leak was discovered last year, PG&E spokesman David Eisenhauer said.

The company said it plans to digitize 15,000 maps of the plastic pipeline systems and create a database to track leaks. PG&E will also replace some of the 6,676 miles of newer lines based on how often they leak.

Eisenhauer said the effort is in the planning stages and carries unknown costs and time frames.

“This is something we have been looking at,” he said. “Part of the plan is determining where in our system there is a higher leak rate, and then prioritizing it.”

Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, has announced plans for legislation to require state regulators to act on National Transportation Safety Board recommendations, which could lead to an order for PG&E to remove its troubled plastic pipe.

‘Great news’
“I think it’s great news – it’s certainly an indication of good will in the future,” Hill said. “But we still need the legislation, to make sure safety recommendations are followed.”

Richard Kuprewicz, a pipeline consultant who advises the advocacy group The Utility Reform Network as well as the federal government on safety issues, said PG&E may be able to replace some of its lines without digging up the old pipe.

In some cases, new plastic pipe can be inserted in old lines, and in others PG&E can create a new distribution network around the old one, Kuprewicz said.

“It’s a fairly easy process,” he said, “but the devil’s in the details” – specifically, finding out which lines need to be replaced first.

“It’s very important that it be matched with a well-thought-out leak survey process,” Kuprewicz said.


Feds focus on new products, not aging pipelines

The only government research program dedicated to improving the safety of U.S. natural-gas pipelines has no plans to study whether key federal investigative recommendations made in the wake of the San Bruno disaster might save lives, officials say.

In drawing lessons from the September 2010 explosion of a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. pipeline in San Bruno that killed eight people, the National Transportation Safety Board reached two major findings:

1. The government should end the practice of exempting aged pipelines from rigorous pressure tests.
2. Operators should add more automatic pipeline shut-off valves to save homes and lives in a disaster.

But the government’s main pipeline regulator, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, says it has no intention of sponsoring research into whether those are good ideas. Instead, agency officials say, their energy is going toward working with private companies in developing new pipeline safety products.

Pressure is mounting on the agency as members of Congress and safety experts call for more information about older pipelines in the aftermath of the San Bruno explosion and other disasters. Even industry has concerns. Cliff Johnson, president of the industry-led Pipeline Research Council International, said “there’s been kind of a hole” in the research program when it comes to “heartburn issues” like aging pipelines.

Too ‘theoretical’

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration admitted to the safety board during the San Bruno investigation that it lacked big chunks of information about grandfathered pipes, including their location.

But the agency said in a statement responding to a San Francisco Chronicle query that although doing a study on grandfathered pipe “may have some merit,” it was too “theoretical” to fit the focus of its research program.

Instead of looking into the merits of forcing operators to test their older lines, the pipeline agency said it plans to focus on research to develop products and procedures that can be marketed for pipeline repairs, protection and inspections. The federal government will finance the research but involve companies that might market the results.

Using New Technology

The idea is to “operationalize new technology, as opposed to undertaking theoretical research,” the agency said.

In other words, the results of these federally financed studies “can be quickly put into use,” said Olivia Alair, spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, the pipeline agency’s parent department.

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Michigan lawmakers want tougher pipeline rules

Two Michigan lawmakers said they’ve introduced proposals for new measures concerning the integrity of oil and gas pipeline infrastructure.

U.S. Reps. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the energy and commerce committee, and John Dingell, D-Mich., a former chairman, in an article in the Kalamazoo Gazette said they’ve introduced plans to “make vital, long overdue improvements” to the 2.5 million-mile U.S. pipeline network.

The measure would tighten existing safety measures and increase penalties on pipeline operators in the event of a spill.

“Energy demand continues to increase and as we seek to responsibly meet that growing demand with our increased production, the importance of ensuring the safe transportation of those vital resources becomes even greater,” they wrote.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week called on a Canadian pipeline company to take further steps to clean the Kalamazoo River system polluted by a July 2010 oil spill.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul delays widely backed pipeline safety measure

WASHINGTON — Despite industry backing and bipartisan support, legislation to improve pipeline safety is being delayed by Sen. Rand Paul, who contends it shouldn’t be given expedited Senate consideration because it contains new federal regulations.

He also criticized Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for mismanaging the legislative process in an effort to pass the bill quickly.

“I believe legislation should have open debate and votes,” Paul, R-Ky., said in a statement Wednesday. “It need not take weeks. Certainly we could spend an afternoon for the people’s elected representatives to discuss whether they got massive new regulations right.”

The Senate’s Democratic leaders want the bill passed using a fast-track procedure — with no debate and a voice vote when many senators might not even be present — that would allow them to spend most of the dwindling time left in this session on legislation aimed at job creation.

But such speedy passage of bills requires unanimous consent, and Paul is the lone member objecting.

Senate leaders could overcome Paul’s objections by considering the bill under normal Senate procedures — requiring 60 votes to cut off debate. But to do so would require more time.

At issue this time is the reauthorization, through 2014, of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, an agency that oversees the nation’s 2.5 million miles of oil, gas and hazardous materials pipelines.

The reauthorization bill, sponsored by Democratic Sens. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Jay Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, includes several new safety provisions adopted after some major pipeline accidents, including one last year in San Bruno, Calif., that killed eight people and injured dozens more. Since 2006, an average of 40 pipeline accidents each year have caused fatalities or injuries.

Paul said in his statement that “absolutely nothing in the current bill would have prevented the recent pipeline problems, or would have prevented the tragedy in San Bruno last year.”

“The bill puts in place new mandates; it hires new bureaucrats,” he said. “But it doesn’t properly diagnose the problem, and it grandfathers in the very pipelines that have had recent problems. It makes no sense. As a doctor, I find it offensive to rush through treatment when you haven’t diagnosed the problem properly.”

Among the new safety steps are increased civil penalties for violating pipeline regulations, new civil penalties for obstructing investigations, additional safeguards for digging around utilities, requirements for shut-off valves in new pipelines, and additional pipeline inspectors and safety experts.

“While our pipeline system is largely safe, when accidents occur the consequences can be catastrophic,” Lautenberg said in a statement in May. “This bill would help to ensure the safety and efficiency of our pipeline network.”

The bill was approved unanimously in May by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and sent to the Senate. Paul is not on that committee.

The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, the American Gas Association and the Association of Oil Pipe Lines all back the legislation.

In a July 26 letter to senators, the industry groups said “our organizations support continuous improvement in pipeline safety. (The Lautenberg-Rockefeller bill) would provide legal support for important ‘next steps’ in improving safety.”

The new regulations proposed in the bill would be subject to risk-assessment and cost-benefit analysis, the groups said, adding that the pipeline safety program “is completely paid for by industry — not taxpayers.”

“We thought (the bill) provided a reasonable framework and good congressional guidance for the regulators to go ahead and proceed down a path that would enhance pipeline safety over time,” said Jerry Morris, president and CEO of Southern Star Central Gas Pipeline Inc. in Owensboro, who spoke to Paul about the matter in a June meeting in Owensboro.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., supports the pipeline bill, but also defends Paul.

“Senator McConnell believes that every senator has the right to ask for sufficient time to review important legislation,” said spokesman Robert Steurer.

Paul insisted he was not a roadblock.

“The Senate can deal with and likely pass the new pipeline regulations bill,” he said. “In fact, they could have done so at any time since this bill has been ready since July. Time could have been scheduled for debate and votes during any one of the many weeks we sit here all week with few votes.

“The fact is Senate Democrat leaders woefully mismanage the process in the Senate, leaving days and weeks of ineffectively used time, then asserting that bills need to pass with no debate or vote at all,” Paul said.

Given the broad support for the bill, Reid apparently would have the 60 votes needed to overcome Paul’s opposition, but it could take additional time for passage.


NTSB releases official report on San Bruno explosion

On Monday, September 26, The National Transportation Safety Board released its full report into the investigation of the deadly PG&E gas line explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people, injured several others and destroyed several homes.

Federal officials last month released some of its key findings, including the probable cause, conclusions and a complete list of safety recommendations, and denounced PG&E for “a litany of failures” that led to the deadly San Bruno blast on Sept. 9, 2010.

The NTSB released on its website a 140-page report titled “Pacific Gas and Electric Company Natural Gas Transmission Pipeline Rupture and Fire.” The report includes a narrative of what happened leading up to the explosion,

Last month, Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, accused the company of having “exploited weaknesses” in government pipeline regulations “to the detriment of public safety.” She noted that the seeds of the disaster were sown in 1956 when PG&E first assembled the shoddily welded steel pipe through San Bruno’s Crestmoor neighborhood.

Included in the NTSB findings is PG&E’s failure for 54 years to detect a serious welding flaw in the pipe, which finally broke apart Sept. 9 when an electrical glitch at a Milpitas gas-line terminal caused a slight increase in gas pressure.

The investigative board also heavily criticized the California Public Utilities Commission and the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for inadequately supervising PG&E.