Data integrity and spills

Office of Pipeline Safety Western Region identifies poor data integration within integrity management programs as a contributing factor to recent high profile spills and explosions.

Speaking at the influential 2011 Geogathering event earlier this year, held in Broomfield, Colorado, Chris Hoidal, Western Region Director of the Office of Pipeline Safety described ‘numerous high profile incidents’ that highlight the need for better pipeline safety data integration. In June 2010, some 800 barrels of crude oil spilled from a Chevron pipeline in Salt Lake City into a city park and creek with an estimated $5 million clean-up cost to the operator. Hoidal explained that poor data integration within the integrity management program was a contributory factor to the spill. Since the pipeline was built, rights of way had been encroached upon by buildings, structures and vegetation. An electrical substation and grounding grid was installed over the pipeline in 1984 but the risk posed by electric fault currents was not explicitly incorporated into the integrity management program. The spill was initiated when a storm-induced electric arc burned a half inch hole in the top of the pipeline releasing the crude (full OPS report on

Another high profile incident occurred in July 2011 when ExxonMobil’s Silvertip pipeline released some 1,000 barrels of crude into the Yellowstone River near Laurel, Montana, causing an estimated $42 million of damage. River scour was the root cause of the break. While ExxonMobil was aware of the flood risk and numerous remote actuated valves, it still took 56 minutes after the first alarm to close the valve adjacent to river.

Hoidal attributed the delayed response to a failure to ‘explicitly integrate local river crossing information, particularly local stream information, into the integrity management program.’ A subsequent investigation found that ‘few pipeline companies incorporate river and geotechnical risks when determining prevention and mitigation measures.’ Another high profile incident, the explosion of Pacific Gas & Electric’s San Bruno pipeline in September 2010 caused eight fatalities. The operator failed to keep external corrosion direct assessment (ECDA) information current. Hoidal concluded that ‘large systems need to ensure all pipeline information is integrated, particularly when ECDA is used.’

Operators can expect to see heightened attention from the DOJ and EPA. Currently there is concern that states are ‘too close to industry and lack the will to enforce regulations.’ Operators are required to examine their data yearly and report changes in geospatial, attribute, metadata, or contact information. The regulator is now extending assessments of pipeline integrity in high consequence areas to include ‘low stress’ pipelines. Preventative and mitigation measures ‘must be constantly improved upon.’ Congress will mandate improvements. Read the full paper on

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