Tuesday, May 19 – PIPELINERS PODCAST – EPISODE 128 – JOHN ERICKSON sponsored by Energy Worldnet
This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features first-time guest John Erickson of the American Public Gas Association (APGA) discussing the important elements of Distribution Integrity Management for natural gas with host Russel Treat.
In this episode, you will learn about the history of integrity management, how transmission integrity management differs from integrity management, and how geocentric data contributes to distribution integrity management. You will also learn about how the computer program SHRIMP helps with risk management.
Russel Treat: Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 128, sponsored by Energy Worldnet, worldwide service provider to the oil and gas industry, making the world a safer place by providing pipeline operators and contractors innovative technology for operator qualification, safety training, content authoring, and guidance as pipeliners operate in compliance with PHMSA, OSHA, and other regulatory requirements. To learn more about Energy Worldnet, visit energyworldnet.com.
Announcer: The Pipeliners Podcast, where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations. Now your host, Russel Treat.
Russel: Thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. I appreciate you taking the time, and to show that appreciation, we give away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener each episode. This week, our winner is Michael Fraser, with TD Williamson. Congratulations, Michael, your YETI is on its way. To learn how you can win this signature prize pack, stick around until the end of the episode.
This week, we’re very fortunate to have John Erickson joining us. John is adviser emeritus with the American Public Gas Association, and has quite the background in gas utility operations. He’s going to join us to talk about distribution integrity management.
John, welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast.
John Erickson: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Russel: Very glad to have you. I think this is going to be a topic of interest to a lot of people. Before we dive in, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background, and how you got involved in pipelining and integrity management?
John: It’s kind of a “Forrest Gump” story. I’ll talk about, is somebody have a destiny, or are you just a feather blowing in the wind? I’m the latter. I’m a chemical engineer, and started out in the chemical industry as an environmental specialist.
I ended up moving to Baltimore, Maryland, and going to night school to get an MBA, 50 miles away in Washington, D.C., at George Washington University.
One day, I’m in the placement center, and lo and behold, the American Gas Association is looking for a chemical engineer with an environmental background, because they’d just discovered PCBs in the gas system up in Long Island, and wanted to gear up.
I went and interviewed, and lo and behold, I’m in the gas industry. I worked with them for 16 years, I finished as a VP, then was a pipeline safety consultant for eight years. At 2004, my largest client, The American Public Gas Association said they were looking for somebody full-time to do pipeline safety and wanted me to do it.
My options were to take the job or lose my biggest clients and having just signed the first tuition room and board check for my son the night before, I said, “Maybe knowing what’s in my paycheck is a good thing.”
Russel: [laughs] As we sit here talking on the mic, the last time…I don’t look at this but once a week, because I can’t take any more data. The last time I looked at oil, it was at $23 a barrel and change, and gas was at $1.50 something. We’re back in another one of those times.
John: That’s actually for the end users. The distribution companies, they like the price lower until the producers stop producing and exploring. There’s a happy medium and I think we’re below it right at the moment.
Russel: There’s no doubt about that. Some people are going to be happy about buying their gas for their cars, and others will be happy about buying their natural gas for their homes. This is a temporary thing. Stability is a good thing. Predictability is a good thing.
Russel: Anyways, getting us off a little bit into the weeds, I asked you to come on to talk about distribution integrity management. I thought maybe a good place to start would be to talk a little bit about the history of integrity management, and why there’s even a thing called distribution integrity management. Maybe you can give us a little walkthrough of the history.
John: Really, there’s three different segments of the pipeline industry that are regulated by the Department of Transportation. That’s hazardous liquids, natural gas transmission, and natural gas distribution. Each of those segments have their own unique attributes.
Hazardous liquids were the first to have an integrity management rule. That came about, about the year 2000. It really focused on the integrity of the line, meaning does the pipeline have the strength to withstand the internal operating pressures to which it will be subjected.
It looks at things like dents, and corrosion, and other defects in the pipeline that affect its strength. A couple years later, they published a very similar rule for transmission, natural gas transmission. It also focused on measuring and monitoring the strength of the pipeline and the integrity of the line.
A couple years later, the inspector general of the Department of Transportation issued a study looking at integrity management and came to the conclusion that because there was no rule in the Federal Pipeline Safety Regulations that said distribution integrity that the integrity of distribution systems was unregulated.
Of course, we all know that’s not true. There were pretty significant regulations, part 192 that address just about every aspect of the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of distribution lines. Nevertheless, that put pressure on DoT to establish some rules for distribution integrity.
Our worst nightmare was that they would just take the transmission rule and search and replace transmission with distribution and we’d have a rule that would be impossible to comply with and really not addressing the real risks of distribution.
Fortunately, PHMSA put together a working group composed of the various stakeholders, public, distribution, state pipeline safety representatives. They met over 2004, 2005 and produced a report that recommended an approach to distribution integrity that is really more of a risk management approach than an integrity approach.
They determined that’s appropriate because by definition distribution can’t operate over 20 percent of its pressure rating, so the idea of a distribution line rupturing because of overpressure is pretty rare. The kind of risks that the group recommended PHMSA focus on were things like excavation damage, other outside force damage, natural forces.
They came up with eight different threats. The final rule that came out in 2009 — the time period was significantly different than the other two integrity management rules.
Russel: We got to talk a little bit about what are those differences and why are those differences. We’re also using the term distribution, and sometimes people get a little confused about that. They don’t work in the business.
What we’re really talking about is gas utilities, the people that are taking gas off of the main line, transmission lines, and feeding it through the end users, primarily homes and small businesses.
Russel: What also a lot of people don’t realize is that the pressure which gas is delivered to the house is pretty small. The whole process in distribution is taking high-pressure gas — high being a relative concept, 325 PSI, 150 PSI kind of gas — off of a distribution feeding line and then stepping that pressure down as you get it back to the household.
The issues from an operating standpoint are to maintain deliverability, make sure that those customers that need gas have it available to them when they need it.
Very different than a transmission line which is operating probably over 700 PSI and where they’re packing, and unpacking, and swinging, and doing all kinds of things to support getting the gas into the system and out of the system where they can get it and where it’s being asked for. It’s very different operating model. I think a lot of people don’t get that.
John: Typically, a distribution system operates at 60 pounds pressure, and then at the house, at the meter, they drop it to one-quarter of a pound pressure.
Give some perspective, if you’ve got a seven-inch tall glass of water and you’re drinking through it with a straw, the straw is being subjected to about a quarter of a pound pressure. The pressures we’re talking about if a straw can handle it, a steel or thick plastic pipe can handle it pretty easily.
That’s the other difference is the diameters of the pipe. Where a transmission line might be 36 inches or larger in diameter, distribution lines are typically 2 to 4 inches and even down to half an inch for the lines that go from the main out in the street up to the house.
Russel: The other thing is that transmission lines generally are a straight run of pipe where a distribution system is a grid of pipe really. It’s a network. It looks more like a tree than a tree trunk, if you will.
John: Right. Yeah, kind of like an interstate highway, and the distribution systems are like a grid of streets in the town.
Russel: Yeah. Then one other aspect I think that’s also very material here, particularly if you’re talking about a risk management standpoint is, transmission lines generally are in rural areas with not a lot of population, where distribution lines always are around a population because they’re taking the gas to the population.
John: Right. That’s actually one of the important differences that came out in the working group. In transmission integrity management, there’s the concept of high consequence areas, which are those areas where the interstate transmission line is traversing an area that has a high concentration of people around it, which is unusual for a transmission line.
It’s something they try to avoid, but sometimes population encroaches on a line that used to be out in the middle nowhere. We decided not to do that for distribution because basically all distribution systems are in high consequence areas. They’re intentionally in areas where people live because that’s who the customers are.
We joked with PHMSA. They said a pipeline would be horrified if people built near their line. We said, “Nope, not distribution.” If we don’t have lines near where people are building, we’ll build it out to them because we want to hook them up. We want to hook them up on gas.
Russel: That’s an important part of the business model.
Russel: You made a comment earlier that distribution integrity management is more about risk management than liquid or transmission integrity management. Let’s unpack that a little bit. When you say it’s more about risk management, risk management is one of those terms that gets thrown around a lot.
I’ve got a couple of episodes on risk management with Justin Shannon from Marathon and have kind of gone to school on him as much as I am able. Risk management is one of those things that can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. What does risk management mean in this context?
John: It really means looking at the various threats that can cause an unintended release of gas from the pipeline. The eight that came up in the report were obviously excavation damages, the biggest one for most distribution operators. Then things like operator error, corrosion, material defects, equipment failures — those are the various things that came out in the rule.
What each operator has to do is look at each of those and determine on our system, is there any particular area or any part of it — because of the characteristics of the pipeline or where it’s located — what is the level or probability that the risk that particular threat will occur and the consequences that would occur.
You’re really looking at those two sides of it — the probability of a release occurring and the consequences should it occur. Then risk management is categorizing those — what are our highest risk areas, what are our lowest risk areas — and focusing the resources that you have where they’ll do the most good; those highest-risk parts of the system and highest risk threats.
Russel: I’m just trying to visualize as you’re talking about the distinction here. When I think about it, in transmission and liquid lines, a lot of integrity management is focused on various techniques of direct assessment inspection, in line inspection, running smart pigs, gathering that data and doing that data analysis, looking for various kinds of features and anomalies in the pipe that I need to pay attention to.
Whereas, I can’t do nearly as much of that in a distribution system. I’m sure there are places where I can do some inline inspection, but there are a lot more places where I can’t. One of the questions that comes up for me is how do I even do direct assessment on these smaller feeder lines running through the neighborhoods and out to the homes? How do I even do that?
John: It’s something that has been part of the regulations for years. It’s mainly doing things for corrosion such as taking pipe to soil readings when you do have an opportunity to visually inspect the line to check the coating and check the condition of the pipe.
A lot of it isn’t something that you can really directly assess, particularly, is a line about to be hit by someone operating a backhoe. There’s really no way to predict that.
It really turns more toward looking at areas of our pipe where the number of one call tickets are significantly higher than the rest, or the number of excavation damages that we’re seeing are higher than elsewhere, and then focusing, okay, what can we do.
What additional actions can we take to reduce the likelihood of the line being hit in that area or reduce the consequences? It’s really not inspection based.
Russel: It’s more data analysis, right? It would be things like how many leak calls am I getting, where am I getting them from, what’s the population density, what’s the age of the system, those kinds of things factoring into a program.
I guess you could also look at the number of excavation or mark requests and things like that — my 811 calls and so forth. I can look at all of that and do data analysis around all that to give me an indication of where I need to focus my resources.
John: Yeah, that’s exactly right. Actually, that’s in the integrity management program that we developed for APGA’s Security and Integrity Foundation. Those kind of things you just named are exactly what we look at.
We look at how many excavation damages per ticket, per mile of main per service line and compare it to various sections and say, okay, your risk of excavation damage is highest here, lowest there, and then it offers some options.
Maybe if there’s one excavator that’s hitting you, every time they dig, we can focus on public awareness and education to that particular excavator. If it’s a geographic area, it might be sending more people out to do inspections or other actions.
There’s a lot of different things they can take and it is all based on analysis of data. It’s very intensive data analysis driven.
Russel: I would expect that a lot of this is geocentric data. I’m looking at maps, airplane flights, satellite imagery, and all of that kind of thing combined with looking at my leak call reports and where they’re located and that type of thing. Would I be right about that?
John: Right. Absolutely. That’s also one of the characteristics of the distribution industry that made this tough, is the size variation. You’ve got Southern California gas that has about five million customers, but the majority of the distribution systems are little municipal systems that may have 500 or fewer customers and maybe two employees who also run the water department.
Those smaller ones may not even have a computer-based mapping system. DIMP, a computer-based mapping system, is really helpful. You can use it to identify areas of high concentrations of certain types of failures, whereas a small DC might do it with just sticking pins into a paper map of a different color for the different types of failures that they get.
Russel: That’s just another way of doing data analysis, right? It’s just a less technology-intensive way of doing it. It’s more of a labor-intensive way, but if you only got two people and if I’m the only person doing it and I’m putting all the stick pins in the map then I, in my head, have an understanding of where the risks are.
John: Yeah. Actually, the small ones have other advantages too. One is their systems are pretty simple. They may take the gas from…They have one pipeline supplier. They drop the gas to, say, 30 pounds and there’s not another moving part in that system. The gas, just it’s an open pipe all the way up to the customer’s meter where it’s dropped to a quarter pound.
There aren’t a lot of things that can go wrong other than if the pipe is made out of a material like cast iron, it’s brittle or bare steel that doesn’t have cathodic protection, or there are some vintages of plastic pipe that were subject to brittle failure.
Typically, it’s all plastic. If it’s good plastic, it’s not that brittle failure type, they don’t have a lot of areas of higher risk.
Russel: Yeah, I guess if you’re working with plastic pipe, you eliminate some of the risks associated with steel and cast iron, just by the nature of the material.
John: Yeah, exactly. In our program, first question we ask is do you have metallic pipe? If they answer no, we skip the corrosion questions and go on to the next.
Russel: [laughs] If I’m a new community and I’m putting in a new gas system, I should put it in all plastic is what you’re saying.
John: Basically, that is what’s happening in just about every distribution operator, regardless of size. The good polyethylene pipe manufactured to the ASTM standard is pretty reliable stuff and well able to handle the pressures that distribution exerts on it.
Russel: Yeah, and it’s come a very long way, even in the last 10 years. This is one of those other areas, John, that I’d actually like to get somebody on that could talk about this subject in detail and a little bit about the technology because there’s a whole bunch of questions I’d like to ask around plastic pipe.
I think you’re going to see plastic pipe starting to find its way into the to the upstream side of the oilfield as well.
John: Yeah, I think a lot of the gathering lines if they’re not over 100 pounds pressure or so will probably go to it. Good person. Gene Palermo. He was president of the Plastic Pipe Institute and prior to that was the chief engineer for DuPont, who made Aldyl A pipe. He is the world’s foremost expert on plastic.
Russel: Cool. Yeah, send me his contact information. I’ll reach out and see if we can get him to share his knowledge and experience in that domain. That’s another one of those areas that I’m learning. This is one of the things that’s really interesting about the podcast for me, John.
When I started all this, I started talking to people that I knew about subjects I was fairly knowledgeable about. We’ve left that a long distance in the rear view. Now, I’m talking to people that I have just met about subjects I know very little about. I’m getting to learn every week. It’s actually kind of fun.
One of the other things I wanted to ask you about because I know that your immediate past position was with the APGA and you’d been with them for a while. You talked a little bit about how small some of these operators are and just how simple their systems are.
When you start talking about a very small gas distribution system, how does somebody of that size do risk management for integrity management? What does that even look like? It’s not what size my team is, it’s how much of my time do I dedicate to that.
John: Yeah, and very few of those have someone on staff who’s an expert in risk management. One of the issues we’ve run into is a lot of them don’t really understand the concept, so they need help. Generally, they need a consultant or someone to step in.
What APGA did through its security and integrity foundation was create a computer program called SHRIMP. Funny story there that we came up with the acronym before we came up with the words to go with it.
We were sitting around one day at a reception and we said, “You’ve got LIMP for liquids and TIMP for transmission and DIMP for distribution. What would small systems be?” Somebody said SHRIMP and then we came up with Simple, Handy, Risk-Based Integrity Management Program.
Russel: [laughs] The name first and the acronym second. That is not the first time that ever occurred.
John: In true Washington, D.C. fashion. [laughs]
Russel: I was in the Air Force and I was in the combat engineers of the Air Force which is called RED HORSE. That stands for…You’ll love this. [laughs] You know they came up with the name before the acronym. It stands for Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer.
John: Same thing, same thing. We weren’t the first.
Russel: Small…What’d you say now? Small what?
John: Simple, Handy, Risk-Based Integrity Management Program.
Russel: Simple, Handy, Risk-Based. I like it.
John: What it is it’s like TurboTax, which is timely for this time of year. We started out just planning to write a model distribution integrity management plan, but we started thinking maybe we can make it help the user walk them through the process.
It asks them questions like TurboTax asks did you sell a house, or if no, they skip the capital gains, or do you have interest income? This asks about each of the eight threat areas and goes through a series of questions, corrosion being a good example.
Do you have metal pipe? Yes. Is it coated and cathodically protected? Yes or no. If it’s cathodically protected, we’ll ask are the cathodic protection readings consistently above the criteria of 0.85 volts? If it’s not coated, we’ll have other questions. We ask have you had corrosion leaks? Do your inspections show signs of corrosion?
Basically, gets both the probability side and then ask questions about the pressures it operates at, the diameter of the pipe, the importance of it, the significance. A half-inch line going to a house — if it were to leak — is less critical than if the sole source feeder to the town were to rupture. It looks at those kinds of factors and then gives the user a risk ranking based on that.
Then, the user is asked to go in and look. Say, here’s where SHRIMP would rank all your various risks and why. Do you agree? We can only ask a certain number of things about the pipe. The operator probably knows a lot more than we do.
We want them to put their risk management hat on and start thinking, okay, I happen to know that this line is located near a hospital or a nursing home that would be hard to evacuate, so I’m going to move that up higher on the risk ranking score.
Or, yes we’ve had leaks on this, but they’re minor and small. We’re going to move that lower. That’s where a lot of those smaller operators, in particular, have fallen short. I hear from the state inspectors that the users just accept what SHRIMP says without even thinking about it and then the state starts asking question. They go, “Well, no, we don’t really agree.”
That’s the hard part, is you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. How do you instill the philosophy of risk management into the folks that are using it?
Russel: The way you do that — using the horse analogy — is to take the horse to the salt lick and you keep it at salt lick long enough, when you get him to the water, he’s going to drink.
John: [laughs] We joked that you just hold the horse’s head underwater. It may not still breathe.
Russel: That’s a little different approach right there, John.
John: We actually used that for some of it. Under natural forces, we list all the various things that can affect integrity like earth movement, landslides, or washouts, lightning, earthquakes and ask, do you have these in your area?
We had some would say, “Yes, we’ve got those,” but then they wouldn’t say what they were and so we updated it to say okay, check the box. Which of these do you have? It goes back and if you say we’ve got areas where we are subject to landslides, it asks where in your system are those and how severe are the problems? That’s holding their head underwater.
Russel: Yeah, it’s holding their head underwater because you’re not letting them finish the questionnaire until they answer all the questions. You’re trying to drop the subject matter expertise required to walk out the questionnaire to a lower level, which is necessary for these smaller guys to be able to do this stuff and do it well. The salt lick approach is more helping them understand the value and getting them hungry for the value. That’s harder to do. Certainly, harder to do.
John: One other complication we have is actually an apartment complex or a mobile home park that buys gas from the local utility, but distributes it through underground piping. They are considered distribution operators by DOT regulations. It’s even more complicated.
At least with small utilities, selling gas is their business, so they’re at least familiar with the business of gas distribution. A lot of these mom and pop trailer park operators, that’s not their business, and they’re shocked to find out they’re a distribution operator, and a lot of them really need help.
John: We have about 1,600 distribution systems that are using SHRIMP for their integrity management plans, and about two-thirds of them are these small, what they call master meter systems.
I used to get calls from them that, can I stay on the phone with them as they go through SHRIMP, and answer the questions? Of course, I couldn’t do that. A year later, they’d say, “The state inspector is here. Can you answer all of his questions?”
John: Obviously, I can’t do that either. [laughs]
Russel: Oh, my gosh. I see now. That’s amazing to me. It makes sense because there is risk associated with operating a system like that, and it makes sense that there would be governance around that. It also makes sense that the people that have those systems never thought that they were getting into the gas distribution business.
John: Right, and it does make sense. If they would just follow the Part 192 regulations, that would be a big improvement. In my opinion, trying to extend integrity management to them, for most of them, except for the very largest, is probably unnecessary. There are some big ones, a lot of universities, and Walt Disney World, believe it or not. Walt Disney World.
Russel: Sure. Anybody with a large campus, right?
Russel: Trailer parks, large residential buildings, high rise, condominium buildings, all of those guys are in effect operating gas distribution systems.
John: Right, and at least a large university or Walt Disney World will have a department that is in charge of managing the infrastructure, so they’re in a little better situation. They specialize in that, versus a small mobile home park operator that just has a maintenance guy that does everything.
Russel: Exactly. Fascinating. John, this has been awesome. I’ve learned a ton. If you were going to leave a closing remark for folks that are listening to this, what would you want their key takeaway to be here?
John: I think it would be that the gas industry takes integrity management seriously, that a lot of operators are, as a result of going through the process, learned a lot more about their systems, and as a result, are implementing programs that go above and beyond the minimum pipeline safety regulations.
What I’ve heard feedback from people is, they learned a lot about their system that they didn’t know prior to it, but it’s a learning experience for both the industry and the regulators that have to come in and audit it.
It will be an ongoing process. [laughs] There’s never really a home base where you say, “I got there. I’m done.” It’s going to be a continuous improvement process.
Russel: No doubt. Hey, John, thanks so much for coming on. Glad to have you. We’ve got a few other topics that I want to visit with you about, and we’re going to ask you to come back to have those conversations as well.
John: That sounds good. Thanks for having me.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast, and our conversation with John Erickson. Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit pipelinerspodcast.com/win, and enter yourself in the drawing.
If you’d like to support the podcast, the best way to do that is to leave us a review. You can do that on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, basically whatever smart device podcast app you use. You can find instructions at pipelinerspodcast.com.
Russel: If you have ideas, questions, or topics you’d be interested in, please let me know on the Contact Us page at pipelinerspodcast.com, or reach out to me on LinkedIn. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.
Transcription by CastingWords
Categories: Pipeline Safety