Pipeline failures often have potentially significant health, safety, and environmental consequences due to the nature of the pressurised fluids that they are used to transport. It is therefore logical that the primary objective of a pipeline integrity management system (PIMS) must be to control relevant integrity threats, maintain an acceptable level of risk and to prevent a loss of containment event.
However, not even the most sophisticated of integrity management systems are perfect; nor can they ever be. Time independent threats such as third party damage are difficult to manage and the human factor means there is always potential for error and, therefore, the potential for a pipeline incident to occur cannot be ignored. This is of course is all the more true when normal operating systems and controls cannot, and are not, being followed, which is a situation many operators are currently finding themselves in due to working restrictions being enforced following the COVID-19 breakout.
Emergency preparedness in this case is critical, though is perhaps often the most overlooked aspect of an integrity management system. This may be down to the misconception that any incumbent inspection, maintenance, and repair system is sufficient to prevent any incident occurring. The hope is, of course, that there will never be a need to response to an emergency incident. However, as we all know…hope is not a strategy.
What is emergency preparedness?
There should be a documented process (i.e. an emergency response plan) for dealing with and responding to an emergency for any pipeline that is classified as a major accident hazard pipeline, or any pipeline transporting hazardous fluids that have the potential to cause a major incident. A pipeline emergency response plan (PERP) is fundamental to demonstrating emergency preparedness; it is in fact somewhat inconceivable to think how an effective response to an emergency incident could be achieved in lieu of such a procedure. However, a PERP alone does not demonstrate emergency preparedness.
Emergency preparedness goes beyond setting out and documenting the response plan. Whilst the PERP may define how to minimise immediate health, safety and environmental impacts, emergency preparedness provides a business function, enabling the Operator to return the pipeline to service as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Some aspects of emergency preparedness that would not necessarily be covered by the response plan include:
- Compliance with local regulations
- Emergency repair strategy
- Spares philosophy
- Provision of service contracts
- Provision of personnel training and competence testing
- Emergency drills
- Incident investigation
- A response plan risk assessment
This latter aspect of emergency preparedness is one that is perhaps hard to comprehend, given that any response means that an incident has already occurred. However, it is in fact a critical factor for any emergency response given the potentially hazardous situation personnel will be responding to.
How to define an emergency?
The problem many operators face is understanding what emergencies to prepare for and how the response may vary depending on the cause, extent, and location of the incident. These factors all need to be considered and may only be properly understood on the basis of a pipeline risk assessment, which will also consider the most likely failure scenario that is likely to occur. Rather than enacting a generic response plan for some unspecified loss of containment event, it clearly makes more sense to tailor the response plans accordingly to the most significant and probable events. However, it is surprisingly common to find that a link between the PERP and the risk assessments does not exist.
Emergency preparedness typically starts with an emergency preparedness study to benchmark the current system, processes, and procedures against industry best practices. AIE has a wealth of highly qualified and experienced Pipeline Integrity Engineers to support our clients with every aspect of emergency preparedness, from execution of the initial study, through to implementation and testing of response plans.
These services are complemented by our industry-leading risk-based integrity management (RBIM) software, Veracity Pipeline, which enables our clients to manage the integrity of their pipelines efficiently and effectively throughout their life cycle. The software provides operators with a user-friendly and systematic approach to pipeline risk assessment and risk-based inspection (RBI) planning, which forms an integral part of pipeline integrity management. Furthermore, the software is fully integrated with complementary Veracity modules: Veracity Anomaly, Veracity CCM and Veracity Inspection to bridge the gap often encountered in data management.