Pipeline Safety

Virtually all aspects of the energy transportation pipeline industry are regulated to some extent by federal, state, and local agencies.

The Office of Pipeline Safety (PHMSA) is the primary federal regulatory agency responsible for ensuring that pipelines are safe, reliable, and environmentally sound. From the federal level, we oversee the development and implementation of regulations concerning pipeline construction, maintenance and operation, and we share these responsibilities with our state regulatory partners.

Regulatory Perspective

The Office of Pipeline Safety has a limited number of inspectors in the field, working with our state partners to oversee over 2 million miles of pipelines. Due to this and other limitations, our past focus had to be fairly narrow in order to have any impact. We concentrated on defining and ensuring industry compliance with minimal design, operational, and maintenance practices.

That regulatory approach produced a good safety record, and pipelines today are the safest, most environmentally-friendly and reliable mode of hazardous liquid and gas transportation. But pipeline accidents still happen; sometimes with profoundly tragic consequences. Therefore, we have to do better, and we will.

Looking Forward

OPS has significantly transformed itself—and the way it regulates the pipeline industry—over the last few years. We have new people in new jobs with new skills. We have written new, stricter regulations, and we are enforcing them in a tough but fair manner. These transformations are driven by one objective: to maximize the positive impact that OPS and state program people and resources have on the safety, integrity, and reliability of our nation's pipeline system.

The rules governing pipeline safety are included in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Parts 190-199. Individual states may have additional or more stringent pipeline safety regulations.

Recognizing a Pipeline Incident

A pipeline incident exists when there is a pipeline leak, fire, explosion, natural disaster, accidental release or perational failure that disrupts normal operating conditions.

Pipeline control center personnel keep a watchful eye over potential incidents by constantly monitoring the daily operation of pipelines. As a result, pipeline operators are able to minimize the impact of leaks and prevent incidents by remotely initiating emergency shutdowns, starting and stopping pumps, and opening and closing valves.

Despite the industry’s best efforts to monitor and protect pipelines, incidents can happen. Pipelines that were built years ago in rural areas may now lie beneath populated areas. A minor scrape or dent from construction and excavation activities can cause a break or leak in these pipelines.

Signs of a Pipeline Release

You can recognize a pipeline incident by using your senses of sight, sound and smell.


     
     Dying vegetation on green corridor

Mist or cloud of vapor
       
     Sheen or film on water

Petroleum on the ground
       
     Water bubbling or standing in unusual areas

Fire or Explosion


     A hissing, whistling or roaring noise


     Strange and unusual gaseous or chemical odors

What to Do If You Suspect a Leak

  1. Immediately leave the area
  2. If possible, turn off any equipment being used in or near the suspected leak. Abandon any equipment being used and move upwind from the suspected leak
  3. From a safe location, call 911 or your local emergency response number & the pipeline company. Call collect, if needed, and give your name, phone number, description of the leak, and its location
  4. Warn others to stay away when possible

What NOT to Do If You Suspect a Leak

  • Do not touch, breathe, or make contact with the leaking fluids or gas. Stay upwind if possible
  • Do not light a match, start an engine, use a telephone, turn on or off any type of electrical switch such as a light, garage door opener, etc., or do anything that may create static or a spark
  • Do not attempt to extinguish any pipeline fire that may start
  • Do not drive into a leak or vapor cloud area. Automobile engines can ignite vapors
  • Do not attempt to operate any valves

Preventing Pipeline Damage

Pipeline Operator Efforts for Pipeline Safety

In response to federal regulations and in accordance with corporate commitments to protect our communities, pipeline operators use several damage prevention measures to monitor and ensure safe pipeline operation. These include:
  • Regular internal inspections & integrity tests
  • Ongoing pipeline maintenance programs
  • Routine patrol & visual inspection of pipeline rights-of-way
  • Satellite & other remote communication technologies
  • Constant pipeline monitoring
  • Participation in state one-call underground damage prevention programs
  • Pipeline marker program
  • Pipeline Integrity Management Plan (IMP)
  • Emergency response plans

Though operational disruptions are infrequent, pipeline operators go to great efforts to be prepared for any type of incident. Pipeline operators:
  • Develop emergency response & crisis management plans
  • Accumulate manpower & equipment necessary to respond to incidents quickly
  • Develop extensive training & drill programs
  • Work closely with federal, state & local agencies to prepare for & respond effectively to an incident

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Some material from Office of Pipeline Safety (PHMSA) website: www.phmsa.dot.gov/pipeline