pipelineThe National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) yesterday adopted a safety study on integrity management of gas transmission pipelines in high consequence areas. Integrity management is the process by which pipeline operators and inspectors find and address potential problems before they result in accidents.

In 2003, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued regulations governing these integrity management processes. The regulations took effect in 2004.

Where the data came from

In its safety study, the NTSB analyzed information from PHMSA’s data systems, federal and state pipeline inspectors, transmission pipeline operators, industry associations, and pipeline and safety engineering support organizations. The study also reviewed recent NTSB accident investigations.

What the NTSB recommends

The study includes recommendations addressing a broad range of improvements. These include broadened use of in-line inspection, the inspection method that detects the most potential problem areas per mile of pipeline.

The recommendations also emphasizes closer state to-state and federal-state cooperation among inspectors, and call for expanded and improved resources and guidance at the federal level, including improvements to the National Pipeline Mapping System and better integration of geographic information system (GIS) technology.

300,000 miles of pipeline

Integrity management of gas transmission pipelines requires expert knowledge and integration of multiple disciplines to detect potential problems. America’s onshore gas transmission pipeline network comprises almost 300,000 miles of pipeline, the majority of which was laid before 1970. The study focused specifically on high consequence areas, where an accident could cause the most damage and loss of lives.

“Effective oversight and management of these programs save lives, preserve property, and protect the environment,” said NTSB Acting Chairman Christopher A. Hart.

While the 2003 regulations have kept the rate of corrosion failures and material failures low, study authors note, there is no evidence that they have led to an overall decline in accidents in high consequence areas.

A critical human safety issue

“Improving pipeline safety is a critical human safety issue that can and must be improved now,” Hart said.

“With the collaborative input of experts throughout the pipeline industry and regulatory community we’ve identified additional ways to find the potential problems before they become tragedies.”

To review the full report, including the findings and recommendations, click on the following link: http://www.ntsb.gov/news/events/Documents/2015_Gas_Transmission_SS_BMG_Abstract.pdf.