PHMSA Asks Pipeline Operators to Review Their Integrity Management Programs

The DOT agency's advisory bulletin asks pipeline owners and operators to look for deficiencies like the ones NTSB found in Enbridge's program after a large pipeline spill in July 2010.

PHMSA this week issued an advisory bulletin urging all pipeline owners and operators to check their integrity management programs to ensure they do now have the same deficiencies that NTSB identified in Enbridge's IM program after one of its pipelines ruptured in a wetland July 25, 2010, near Marshall, Michigan. The break wasn't discovered or addressed for more than 17 hours, and the total release was an estimated 843,444 gallons of crude oil.

The oil flowed into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. According to PHMSA, cleanup and remediation continues and the costs have exceeded $1 billion.

NTSB found the probable cause of the pipeline rupture was stress corrosion cracking, and that the rupture and prolonged release were caused by organizational failures at Enbridge that included: 1) Deficient integrity management procedures that allowed well-documented crack defects in corroded areas to propagate until the pipeline failed, 2) inadequate training of control center personnel, which resulted in the failure to recognize the rupture for 17 hours and through two restarts of the pipeline, and 3) insufficient public awareness and education, which allowed the release to continue for nearly 14 hours after the first notification of an odor to local emergency response agencies.

Pipeline owners and operators should review their own IM programs for similar deficiencies and to take corrective action, according to the bulletin. "Operators should also consider training their control room staff as teams to recognize and respond to emergencies or unexpected conditions. Further, the advisory encourages operators to evaluate their leak detection capabilities to ensure adequate leak detection coverage during transient operations and assess the performance of their leak detection systems following a product release to identify and implement improvements as appropriate. Additionally, operators are encouraged to review the effectiveness of their public awareness programs and whether local emergency response teams are adequately prepared to identify and respond to early indications of ruptures. Finally, this advisory reminds all pipeline owners and operators to review National Transportation Safety Board recommendations following accident investigations. Owners and operators should evaluate and implement recommendations that are applicable to their programs," according to the agency.

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