William's Pipelines performance at BC, Canada Public Hearing
By Glenn Thornton

Safepipelines Mailing List
6 May 2003

In view of the recent pipeline incident involving one of Williams's pipelines, it is perhaps pertinent to highlight Williams's recent performance at a Public Hearing up here in BC, Canada.

As many are aware, Williams and BC Hydro are joint-venturing a natural gas pipeline from the mainland USA to Vancouver Island, BC, Canada and Williams is doing almost all of the engineering, construction and operation of this pipeline known as GSX (Georgia Strait Crossing). At the recent Public Hearings I had the opportunity to question representatives of Williams as to how they managed pipeline safety and integrity. I had spent a considerable amount of time and effort preparing the questions and the following note was written in some frustration shortly after putting them to Williams for the better part of a day. We just did not seem to be on the same page as they say. Williams's approach to safety & integrity seemed to be the same as it was in the industry twenty or thirty years ago. I will let you draw your own conclusions.

Sidney, B. C. - 11 March 2003.

To give you a brief summary of yesterdays hearing in Sidney. The subject was Pipeline Safety, Operations and Maintenance and Williams fielded five of their employees and a consultant. They were their Marine Pipeline Leader, Director of Operations, Project Manager, Manager of Pipeline Safety, Onshore Pipeline Leader and a consultant from WKM Consultants who fielded questions on risk analysis.

Remember we are talking about a pipeline that will operate at 2,220 psi in a seismically active area running through populated areas on Vancouver Island.

We started by getting into basic pipeline safety and integrity management. They hadn't a clue and spent a lot of time in huddles muttering amongst themselves and scribbling on pieces of paper. Either they hadn't done the work or just didn't know. Even when we tried to ask them questions about the basic building blocks of safety and integrity management systems they didn't know and got it mixed up with quality management systems several times. Incidentally, they didn't seem to have a proper quality management system either. When we asked if they had a specific project safety organization the answer was er - no. Had they got a specific safety & integrity budget the answer was - no. A further example was their reaction to the question "Do you have some kind of a Permit to Work system to control authorized and prevent unauthorized work on the pipeline?" The rational for this basic safety process again seemed to elude them. We had to leave out a number of questions because they patently were clueless on the subject.

We then got on to risk to people living near the pipeline and it was much the same. Their consultant had done a 'qualitative' analysis which was ok as far as it went and told them what they wanted to hear but had not done a 'quantitative' analysis to define the individual and societal risk their pipeline would pose to people living near by (maybe they didn't WANT to know). They had arbitrarily established a 500 meter "hazard zone" on both sides of the pipeline. They had done no work at all to define the impact of a rupture on people and property adjacent to the pipeline, even though a school was in it. They had not discussed this with the local Regional District who issue building permits and had not drawn it to the attention of land and property owners within this one kilometre strip.

We referred to three recent pipeline ruptures (Carlsbad, Bellingham and one up here in BC) and suggested that the root cause of the accidents was (to be polite) "human error" and asked what they were doing to learn from these accidents to ensure they didn't repeat them? Even though this public information could be found on the web and was infact deposited as an exhibit for the hearings, they obviously didn't know anything about it and started to read it then and there. Needless to say our question wasn't answered.

We then got on to leak detection and pointed out that their quoted 10% detection level over twenty four hours was basically unacceptable as 10% of their quoted flow was about as much as a reasonable size town would take in gas. They said that they expected to do better than that but we couldn't get them to commit to anything better. We also suggested that there was a logical connect between their risk assessment work, exposure of people to the effects of a leak and the performance of the leak detection system - we got blank looks of amazement. We just couldn't see the point of a leak detection system if it wouldn't detect a leak and shut the pipeline down in time to prevent serious injuries and property damage.

When we eventually got on to Operations and Maintenance and pointed out that they had filed no documents relating to the offshore part of the pipeline it again became clear that they had done no real work on this at all, apart from copying a heap of William's in-house specs. So again we had to curtail our questions.

Overall Williams's performance on these subjects was pathetic and depressing, particularly as they are supposed to be a big experienced pipeline operator. We also exposed a number of flaws in the Canadian regulatory process that need addressing - but that's another subject.

Copyright Glenn Thornton.

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