How to Improve Pipeline Safety

Earlier this year, President Obama signed a bill to renew the federal government’s pipeline safety program. The bill was passed unanimously in both chambers of Congress.

This bipartisan effort, which was lauded by industry organizations like the API, is evidence of how important it is to keep our pipelines safe — for our employees, our communities, and the environment. Here are four ways you can improve pipeline safety.

Keep pipeline inspections up-to-date

Inspections are key tools in the pipeline safety toolbox. Employees of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) spend more than half of their time doing inspection-related activities, and these inspections have resulted in a 39% decrease in serious pipeline incidents since 2009.

Especially as pipelines age, it’s crucial that they’re inspected regularly to find potential problems before they happen. Many pipelines were installed before the early 1970s, when the current safety regulations were first put in place, and these pipelines may require special attention.

Invest in valves and valve integrity

Many types of valves exist along pipelines, including block valves, gate valves, ball valves, check valves, and plug valves. Safety valves are also used as a last line of defense.

Just like the pipelines they sit along, valves need to be regularly inspected and maintained via preventive maintenance and repair programs. For example, this article in Valve Magazine notes that the seat sealant injection feature that facilitates tight closure of most pipeline valves periodically needs to be topped off.

Use wireless remote monitoring systems

Pipelines often run hundreds or thousands of miles (the world’s longest is the Druzhba pipeline, which stretches 2,500 miles). The United States has more than 2.5 million miles of pipelines in total.

That’s a lot of equipment to inspect to make sure it’s functioning properly. Fortunately, wireless remote monitoring systems can make that job a lot easier. These systems can detect everything from gas leaks to vandalism. They can monitor pressure, flow, and valve function. Some, like the sensors embedded into SINTEF’s new SmartPipe pipeline, can even perform these functions underwater.

Provide the required training

Finally, anyone who works on a pipeline should have the training required to do their job safely and effectively.

By law, all pipeline operators must document the training and qualifications of their employees to ensure that they have the knowledge and skills to perform certain tasks, as well as to recognize and react appropriately to any abnormal operating conditions that may occur. This is called Operator Qualification, or OQ. Failing to comply with OQ regulations can result in significant penalties. Learn more about OQ and other types of valve technician training and certification.

Pipeline safety isn’t about just checking boxes on a compliance checklist. It’s about ensuring the well-being of the people who work on the pipelines, their families and communities, and the planet as a whole. Contact us to learn more about the role of valves in achieving this important goal.

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