Human Error Behind Growing Number of Pipeline Accidents

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Human Error Behind Growing Number of Pipeline Accidents

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New data compiled by the National Energy Board in Canada suggests that human error is increasingly a factor in pipeline leaks and that pipeline operators are not paying pipeline safety the attention it deserves.

"It's both probably one of the most difficult things for an organization to deal with, but also the most important," said Mark Fleming, a professor of safety culture at Saint Mary's University in Halifax.

Incorrect pipeline operation — which covers everything from failing to follow procedures to using equipment improperly — has caused an average of 20 leaks per year. That's up from an average of four annually in the previous six years. Such numbers are even higher in the United States.

What may seem inconsequential at first can later contribute to a disaster, Fleming said.

Pipelines installed in the U.S. in the past five years have the highest rate of failure of any built since the 1920s, and human error is partially to blame, said Carl Weimer, executive director of the Washington-based Pipeline Safety Trust.

"A lot of new pipelines being put in the ground just aren't being installed right, or things don't get tightened up quite enough, so within the first year or two things fail," said Weimer.

Patrick Smyth, vice-president of safety and engineering at the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, said there are cost implications associated with the development of a culture of safety: "Getting pipelines towards the higher safety standards of industries like airlines will likely require significant financial sacrifice. To be able to do that, you need to have a very cautious approach to doing work, and that's something that's hard financially. It does have some cost implications that we are often very uncomfortable talking about."


Submitted by PRADEEP KUMAR SHARMA (not verified) on Fri, 02/10/2017 - 05:36 Permalink

As highlighted in the article human error is the single biggest contributing factors for pipeline accidents. Besides the lapses at the time of construction the integrity assessment of the operating pipeline is an important aspect. From my experience of 30 years of working in the area of pipeline research I have learnt that the cost of inspection of a pipeline is a major factor. The cost of inline inspection of cross country pipelines using intelligent pigs is prohibitively high. Except the intelligent pigs for pipelines all the NDT equipment are available off the shelf and can be used as and when required. The need of the hour is to unshackle the strong hold of pigging companies so that the technology is available to pipeline owners at an economical cost thus making it possible to inspect the pipelines more frequently. The pipeline companies should look for entities who can supply the intelligent pigs, train their people to use the pigs. This will help in a long way to maintain integrity of the pipelines. Inspecting pipelines with their own pigs will significantly reduce the financial sacrifice referred to above. I have worked in the area of development of MFL based ipigs, development of flow improver package for crude and product pipelines. I have participated in ILI operations using MFL pigs for inspection of about five thousand kilometers of cross country pipelines. The cost of spares, data analysis and other logistics is very small as compared to the service costs charged by pigging companies.

Costs for ILI Inspection are not a cheap but valuable part of an operators cost budget. When operating oil and gas pipelines I often thought with my teams to even sell the relevant tools. After today more than 35 years of experience in the efficient maintenance of these infrastructures I come to another mindset. When somebody looks at the innovation steps done by ILI suppliers the past years and therefore looking on the availability of super precise high resolution tools today compared to the development 20 years ago i would not invest in these tools in my own fleet. If done so only for few years I would run up-to-date tools in my pipeline but soon latest developments, increase in POD and precision of the features to be detected will by-pass my systems. So we have to talk about the costs. ILI and relevant maintenance efforts will prolong pipeline life time and keep these huge infrastructure investments in good shape avoiding leakage, interruption of services and any harm to the environment. So you shift the end of lifetime of your systems far in the future. In Germany pipelines are operated successfully with highest safety standards for more than hundred years. And even more the occurrence of human errors will be minimized as all these tools work with fully automated methods to produce the feature list. Proper cooperation between ILI suppliers and operators will also increase the value for the enlarged life time of the transport systems. Finally it is the question of the core business of an operator trying to take the lead in the development of ILI tools or not.

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