Natural gas heats our homes and water. Gasoline powers our vehicles. But have you ever considered the routes these products take in order to make our lives easier and more comfortable?
BY ANDY GIESER, KERN RIVER GAS TRANSMISSION
Most of these products are transported by underground high-pressure, high-volume pipelines. Pipeline operators throughout the nation work tirelessly to ensure the products in those pipelines, such as natural gas, crude oil, gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel and other combustible products, move safely and efficiently to refineries, schools, hospitals, business and homes. Pipelines can be found in rural settings, far from populated areas, as well as in urban settings in neighborhoods or near businesses, schools and hospitals.
For pipeline operators, maintaining safe pipeline systems is a critical element in ensuring the products in pipelines keep f lowing. Whether it’s performing valve maintenance, patrolling the right of way by foot, vehicle or air, installing cathodic protection procedures to ensure coated steel pipelines remain corrosion-free, or internally inspecting the pipelines to collect information on unreported third-party damage or internal or external corrosion, the goal is always to ensure the pipelines operate safely and reliably.
Despite the hard work of pipeline operators, external threats to pipeline systems exist. According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the single greatest cause of pipeline accidents is due to third-party damage. Most of this damage occurs when landowners, contractors or excavators are unaware of a pipeline’s location before th ey begin to blast, dig, ditch, drill or plow.
It’s a problem that can be easily avoided if excavators call 811 prior to beginning any digging project. In fact, if a call to 811 is made, there is a less than 1 percent chance of an incident that damages a pipeline or other buried infrastructure. Even small excavations require a call to 811. If you are installing a mailbox, replacing a fence post or digging a hole for a tree or shrub, it can be very easy to hit a phone, gas or power line. Any damage to these or other buried infrastructure could be costly and harmful to you and your neighbors. Always call 811. It’s free, it’s easy, and it’s the law!
If a call to 811 is made, THERE IS A LESS THAN 1 PERCENT CHANCE OF AN INCIDENT THAT DAMAGES A PIPELINE or other buried infrastructure. Even small excavations require a call to 811
Other threats also exist. As you know, physical attacks are becoming more frequent and damaging. Since our energy infrastructure is critical to our way of life, natural gas pipelines and other energy systems have been targets of such attacks. Although most transmission pipelines are buried, valve and regulator settings are located above ground and could be targeted.
Cyber attacks are also becoming a major threat. Most pipelines rely heavily on Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition systems. These systems bring valuable data about the pipeline’s operating conditions to control centers. Once the control center receives the information, it can control the flow and pressure on the system and may also be able to close valves in emergencies, depending on the sophistication of the pipeline. Pipeline operators have strict cybersecurity measures in place to help detect attacks and protect the system. You are a critical element in helping pipeline operators protect their systems, but you have to know what to look for. Pipeline rights of way are marked with signs that show the general location of the pipeline; however, pipeline markers do not indicate the depth of the pipeline. The signs include the operator’s emergency phone number and contain the words WARNING, CAUTION or DANGER, followed by the product transported and the name and emergency phone number of the operator.
Another way to discover the types of transmission pipelines located in your neighborhood is to access the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s mapping system, available at www.npms.phmsa.dot.gov. This system, which is designed to allow users to drill down to their communities and neighborhoods, shows all transmission pipelines – blue for natural gas and red for hazardous liquids. As an emergency responder, you can apply for a login and password that allows enhanced access to the site. Once you receive the enhanced access, you may drill down even further to pinpoint where these facilities are located.
By becoming familiar with pipelines and pipeline facilities in your area and contacting the operators, you can learn:
• Whether facilities are typically staffed or unstaffed, • If staffed, what the normal work hours are
• What time of day deliveries to the facilities are typically made, if at all
• The make, model, color, decals, etc., of the pipeline operator’s vehicles
• How pipeline company employees typically dress. For example, most pipeline company employees dress similarly and often wear a hard hats.
Although pipelines are the most efficient and safest way to transport these commodities, accidents occasinally happen. Are you prepared to meet the challenges of a pipeline accident? Does your organization have standard operating procedures in place to deal with that kind of emergency? Have you participated in or conducted drills that include pipeline hazards? Have you considered what and how you would perform evacuations or reroute traffic?
Pipeline operators are continually looking for ways to interact with emergency responders, and are more than willing to assist responders in creating operating procedures or actively participating in drills.
The following are some of the basic procedures to use when responding to pipeline emergencies:
• Secure the area adjacent to a leak. If the leak is from natural gas or another airborne substance, always consider the wind direction in the decisions you make.
• Do not create ignition sources. Do not light a match or flare, start an engine, switch lights on or off, or use a telephone. Do not drive vehicles into a leak area.
• Do not operate pipeline valves. Most valve stations contain multiple valves, and only the pipeline operator knows the correct valve to open or close in an emergency.
• Establish an incident command center and work with the pipeline operator to bring the event to a safe conclusion.
Transmission pipelines are critical to the country and our communities. Pipeline operators need your help to continue to provide safe, secure and efficient service. If you see any activity that looks out of the ordinary or suspicious, please let us know.