Modern technology is reshaping every aspect of the pipeline industry, a shift that’s exciting and scary at the same time. Whether you’re ahead of the competition or not, digital transformations, such as cloud computing and machine learning, are set to alter the industry’s standard approach to safety.
For an integrity team, the switch to digital means changing up trusted processes. Despite benefits like getting more value from existing data, streamlining workflows, and ultimately, maintaining a safer pipeline, change is difficult.
Over the last 50 years, operators have worked hard to reduce the risk of pipeline failures. The framework for their integrity efforts is provided by federal and state regulations, which prescribe when and how operators deal with pipeline threats. Of course, taking integrity management beyond the regulatory minimums has benefits.
It makes sense that your integrity department focuses on areas where the risk to the pipeline is highest. This attention helps them maximize company resources and stay within budget.
For pipeline operators in a race against integrity threats, there’s no time to get stalled in neutral.
Yet prescriptive regulations have had that effect. By forcing operators to adhere to rigid, black-and-white rules designed to promote safety and reduce risk, they ignore the vast variability among pipeline networks. Given the considerable differences in pipeline age, size, material and contents, operating pressure, terrain, and other factors, it seems impossible that any one-size-fits-all rule or process could be effective, but that’s what compliance expects.
Even when the world is at a standstill, operators can’t put pipeline safety on hold. There’s too much riding on it.
In just the few short weeks since COVID-19 morphed from the global lexicon to the Americas and other areas of the world, integrity management teams have been forced to digitally transform both how and where they work, and to do it fast. Although one of the industry’s premier conferences on pipeline pigging and integrity management, PPIM 2020, was able to go on as scheduled in February, since then, face-to-face events like Europe’s Pipeline Technology Conference have shifted to interactive online versions, and video chats have replaced in-person meetings.
More than a decade in the making, the new Department of Transportation (DOT) mega rule— Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Title 49, Part 191 and 192—was driven by continuing failures in pipeline systems, including the fatal 2010 gas pipeline rupture and fire in San Bruno, California, and oil leaks into rivers in Michigan and Montana.
The mega rule, which goes into effect July 1, 2020, applies to more than 500,000 miles of gas and hazardous liquid pipelines in the United States.