Tuesday, June 9 – PIPELINERS PODCAST – EPISODE 131 – GEOFF ISBELL & MAYRA MAESE sponsored by Energy Worldnet
This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features Geoff Isbell and Mayra Maese of Energy Worldnet (EWN) discussing the important elements of pipeline operator qualification and contractor training.
In this episode, you will learn about DCA OQIP and key takeaways from the New York State Department of Public Service operator qualifications whitepaper. You will also learn about the ASME B31Q standard and how it relates to OQIP. You will also gain insight into what’s coming next for operator qualifications and contractor training in the pipeline industry.
Russel Treat: Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 131, 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 solutions for operator qualification, safety training, content authoring, and guidance as pipelines 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. To show the appreciation, we give away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener each episode. This week, our winner is Kelli Johnson with Enbridge. Congratulations, Kelli, your YETI is on its way. To learn how you can win this signature prize pack, stick around ‘til the end of the episode.
This week, Geoff Isbell returns with first-time guest Mayra Maese to talk about pipeline contractor training and qualification. Geoff, Mayra, welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast.
Geoff Isbell: Thank you, Russel. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Mayra Maese: Yes. Thank you, Russel. It is a pleasure to be here as well.
Russel: Let’s do this as a way to get the listeners tuned in to what we’re going to talk about. Let me ask each of you guys to give us a brief introduction, who you are, what you do, and how you got into pipelining. Mayra, we’ll ask the ladies to go first.
Mayra: Thank you. [laughs] My name is Mayra Maese. I am the Executive Vice President at Energy Worldnet. I’ve actually been in the oil and gas industry for over 10 years — 10 and a half years — here with Energy Worldnet.
My entire life, I have been involved within the oil and gas industry, growing up, and began working in the production/exploration side and then have transitioned through the years over into the operator qualification, distribution, and transmission of the products. That’s how I was introduced. It’s also more of a family thing, I suppose.
Russel: There’s a lot of us that got into this business that way, for sure. Geoff, same question. Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into pipelining.
Geoff: Certainly, Russel. My path was a little bit different than Mayra’s. I actually have about 10 years of experience in the banking and financial regulatory space, and then after that, spent about 10 years in the technology space, working with EDS.
I dealt with a lot of oil and gas companies and technology needs, and then ultimately that led into an interest in Energy Worldnet, which is where I’ve been for the last 14 years.
I came through a compliance, and a training, and technology background, and then came across EWN which was a compilation of all of the things that I had done in my career. I took a keen interest and have been in the industry in this role for about 14 years.
Russel: Great. I asked you guys to come on to talk about operator qualification, and particular from a contractor perspective. I’d like to just start by asking, the question is, how is operator qualification different when you start talking about contractors versus operators?
Geoff: Certainly, that’s a great question. In the work that we do in the industry, we see it first hand, because we work with a lot of operators and contractors.
The primary difference is that operators set the tone for what their employees do, and those employees get qualified one time with repeated requalification intervals for a specific set of requirements that are unique to that operator.
Conversely, contractors have the challenge that if they have a diverse work portfolio, they may work for a lot of different operators.
Every time they move from one operator to the other, they have a requirement to get qualified on a new set of unique requirements for that operator, and as a result, it can create a lot of redundancy in the training and qualifications that they’re asked to go through.
Russel: To me, being a contractor that does work for operators, that sounds like it could get very dicey very quick.
Geoff: It can. The core competency always exists. If you know how to perform a task or an activity, if you’ve established that core competency, then that should carry with you wherever you go.
The focus needs to be more on what’s unique for each and every different operator, because they do have their own O&Ms and construction procedures, and they have their own facilities that may be uniquely different, depending on where they’re located.
The core skill should be there, but yet the nature of how the programs have worked historically has not always accounted for that core competency carrying over from one location to another.
Russel: Yeah, at least in my experience, it’s one thing to understand fundamentally how things work. It’s another thing to know the subtleties about this particular operator’s preferences or approach.
That can get challenging, certainly. Mayra, do you have a take on this question?
Mayra: Yeah. I think that’s definitely a pain point for our contractors and part of the frustration and will set the stage for what we’re going to be talking about today — is that they’re having to take these qualifications, let’s say like line locating, for one operator. Then they have to go take the same qualification for line locating for another operator.
There’s core competencies within that task that we feel should be carried from one operator to another. That’s the hope of trying to get to a good area within the industry that we can have a win-win situation for both an operator and a contractor.
Russel: Yeah, and work as a team to move the needle in terms of zero incidents.
Russel: I think that’s a great place to tee-up the conversation I asked you guys to talk on more specifically. I have to tell you, this is one of those topics where I know if it’s not zero it’s something very close… [laughter] …to zero. I’m going to ask some opening questions, and then I’m going to have to listen real carefully and learn so I can ask some better questions.
First question I want to ask you is, what is DCA OQIP?
Geoff: Certainly. Let me answer that one. I am actively involved with the Distribution Contractors Association, which is the organization that helped facilitate that, but OQIP is specifically an operator qualification integrity process, or we call it the OQIP. It is really a focused effort on trying to raise the bar for how we qualify workers in the industry.
It’s something that started as an ad hoc work group within DCA and contractors doing what we often do at these types of industry events — commiserating on the pain points and the challenges and the issues that we have, and how do we get to a better place?
What happened was that struck a chord that maybe contractors could drive changes in those areas, as opposed to waiting for other sources.
That formed in 2016 into a very structured coalition that ultimately included not just the contractor members of DCA but also industry trade associations like the AGAs and APGAs of the world.
Also, key OQ service providers and even operators and some state regulatory agencies all came together to start participating in these discussions about creating a new standard, a new expectation of, how should all workers, but, in particular, contractors, get qualified?
Is there a way to add the value in the overall proposition, much like how we started this conversation — to balance out core competencies versus unique operator needs and requirements in a way that makes a much more efficient and effective way to train and qualify and issue credentials in the industry.
It’s an ongoing process, so don’t feel bad, Russel. It’s new to everybody. We’re all learning as we go here, and so we’re trying to get the word out, because there’s been a lot of hard work from a lot of very smart people that are very passionate about the industry helping to put this together to raise the bar in the industry.
Russel: If I understand what you’re saying, Geoff, basically the OQIP is trying to establish what is common and then what is unique, and creating a way for the common part of the credentialing to be carried with the person regardless of where they’re working. Is that a fair take from what you’re trying to say there?
Geoff: Yes, that’s correct. When we look at the OQ regulations, those that are prescribed in 49 CFR 192 and 195, we have a very minimum set of requirements in the industry about, what does it mean to be OQ qualified?
It’s very much a minimum standard or minimum obligation for compliance. PHMSA has always said, it is a minimum standard and they really expect the industry to do more, and many have, but it hasn’t always been consistently applied across the industry.
When we look at things like a common term, which can be considered a good term in some circles and bad in another, is one about things like portability. Can you take your training and qualifications from one location to the other?
Historically, that’s been looked at as an all or none type proposition, where I either completely accept a qualification, or I don’t accept it at all. There’s a lot of nuances about why that’s good, bad, or indifferent.
What we did was take a different approach. The coalition looked at is there a different way for us to approach this and recognize that we do have to have unique qualifications for each operator, that we have to recognize the differences in the requirements at the operator level, but that core competency could be carried by that employee from one location to the next.
If we can raise the standard and get a universal acceptance of what that core competency is and what it looks like and how it was achieved, so that there’s integrity and security behind that…
Then operators would have better resource availability to really focus on training and qualifying contractors specific to their operations as opposed to having to start from scratch every single time they bring a new crew on.
Russel: That’s got benefits not only to the contractors but to the operators themselves.
Geoff: Yes, absolutely. In fact, it’s really permeated in a way that we didn’t really recognize fully that it would. That is that not only do operators recognize the value that it has for them as they work with their contractors.
We’re having operators that are getting actively engaged because they see the value in working with their own employees about raising the bar of the administrative processes and the integrity expectations that they have for their own internal OQ programs.
Russel: In preparing for this episode, one of the things that was shared with me is a report that came out of the New York State Department of Public Service about operator qualification. Maybe you or Mayra could talk a little bit about that white paper and what drove it and what are some of the key conclusions that came out of it.
Geoff: One of the issues that we’ve had throughout the industry has been that there is a need to have a higher level of integrity and process behind how we qualify people. As you may recall, there’s been discussion in the industry. There was a notice of proposed rulemaking around operator qualification that went on for a number of years, that ultimately did not come to fruition.
It made it all the way through the GPAC and the LPAC meetings in D.C., but ultimately was not published after the Trump election with some of the regulatory reform that was going on at the time.
We had a clear identification of where the industry wanted to go in terms of raising the bar about expectations around training, around credentialing, around the quality of subject matter experts and folks that are involved in these processes, but it didn’t come to be.
Given that and some other issues in the industry, particularly some incidents and accidents or some integrity-related issues, states began to recognize that they were going to need to proactively take this on themselves.
New York was one of the first to do that when the Department of Public Safety issued a white paper outlining some of the concerns that they had with existing programs in their particular area and what they believed would help resolve some of those issues and things that they would like to see happen.
The precursor to that was the New York DPS holding a meeting and talking about these issues and getting feedback. In fact, Mayra and I both spoke at that event in order to set the tone for what we believed was possible in the industry in these programs.
Now we’re in this life cycle with the New York DPS vetting the feedback that they received and going through some rulemaking of their own and some other states doing the same thing to begin setting some higher-level expectations at a state level that go above and beyond what we currently have at a federal level.
Russel: That’s really the intent. In a previous episode, when we had Skip Elliott on board, he was very clear about the role of PHMSA is to set a minimum standard. They encourage others to exceed that. That’s right in line with the whole philosophy about how that’s designed to work, I suppose.
Geoff: It’s great to see a proactive move that’s not at the federal level, but I do have concerns about what could happen if we see a lot of that at a state level.
Just as we began this conversation talking about some of the redundancy that occurs as you go from an operator only program to a contractor that works for multiple operators and how there’s varied expectations as you go from operator to operator to operator, now you could also potentially have varied expectations as go state by state by state.
My personal preference is that we as an industry really embrace the need to raise the bar and have a high level of integrity in everything that we do. To Skip Elliott’s point, that zero incidents is the ultimate goal. There is a heavy reliance in the industry on contractors and subcontractors in the work that they perform.
Everyone has limited resources in which to work with. We need to come together and find out how to most effectively and efficiently use those resources but to do it with a high degree of quality and reliability and integrity.
If we can do that at an industry level, which is what we see in initiatives like the ASME B31Q task standard or the DCA OQ Integrity Process. We have this driving movement, grassroots if you will, from the industry. We hope that we can get to a point where that is seen and recognized and adopted before we start having a lot of additional regulations come in that might create more work effort.
Russel: Ultimately, to move the needle, one of the things we’re going to need is efficiency and effectiveness across the industry. Anything that diminishes our ability to do that is going to stand in the way, I think is the point you’re making.
Russel: What exactly is B31Q?
Mayra: The B31Q is the only national standard in the industry, by definition and by process, for the qualification of pipeline personnel. Operators are required to have their own task list in order to qualify the individuals that work for them, whether that’s employees and/or contractors or subcontractors.
What the B31Q does, because it is a standard that was developed by volunteer technical committee individuals that have a wealth of information in the industry and the pipeline qualification side, what this does is it set a standard that can be easily adopted by an operator and then modified from there so the operator is not starting from scratch on an actual task list that they’re having to create.
What this does is the task list from there sets a set of core competency requirements that each individual is going to need in order for them to qualify for a task. Take, for example, line locating. The standard will define the guidance for what the task requires.
Then it’ll include the competency requirements that individual will need for that particular task. It’ll go on into some additional things, such as a span of control, requalification intervals, or initial and subsequent qualification methods for it.
Russel: Interesting. It makes sense to me, but this is the first conversation where ASME has come up as I’ve talked about pipelining. I guess one of the things I’m always amazed by is just the number and diversity of professional organizations and standard bodies that are doing work that have impact on how we build, operate, and maintain pipelines. It’s a bit mind-boggling, frankly.
Geoff: The ASME — you raise a good point — historically, as we know, the American Society for Mechanical Engineers, has been primarily focused on the technical and engineering side of pipeline construction. When the OQ rule first came to be in 1999, then there was a request to ASME to get involved on the personnel qualification side.
That was a deviance for them because it was the first time that they would have ever looked at a people-related topic versus a technical and engineer standard type topic, but they did. The first edition was published back in 2006. We’re now on the fifth edition, from 2018. We hope to publish another one later this year or going into next year.
It is a very unique document. There are some other recommended practices out there in the industry, but as Mayra indicated, this is the only one that truly, by definition and processes, is labeled as and meets the requirements of a true standard.
Russel: I guess I’ll ask this question. If I were a brand-new pipeline operator and I were building my OQ program from scratch, is B31Q what I would start with?
Mayra: That is definitely something that we recommend. We actually work with a lot of operators that either have something in place that they created on their own or are using some other form of a qualification process.
By adopting the B31Q, that’s made it so much easier for them to create a robust OQ program because of the way that it’s laid out, in the way that it addresses everything that they would need should an audit…
When the audit does come through, they have a very clean standard that they’re following. It’s internationally recognized. It’s something that is well known across our industry. We begin to see that the trend is a lot of individuals, a lot of operators, are beginning to adopt this B31Q standard.
Russel: How does B31Q relate to the actual pipeline safety code? Is it incorporated by reference at all, or is it just a good tool to use?
Mayra: It is not incorporated by reference. It brings a lot of benefits. Let me start with that. The B31Q brings a lot of benefits for an operator. One of the things that it doesn’t do is it’s not incorporated by reference. It is, right now, a voluntary standard.
It’s not a requirement for an operator to take it, but because of the benefits that it brings, it makes it very attractive to go ahead and adopt it so that they’re not having to start from scratch.
Geoff: I would add in, if I could, Russel, that one of the things that’s unique about the B31Q is the diversity that it offers to a variety of operators, that it is intended to address both pipeline and utility works. Whether it’s transmission pipeline or a local distribution company, the tasks are laid out to address those different groupings.
Whether it’s natural gas or hazardous liquids, it also is designed to address those. There’s also an underwater task activity. Companies that may cross bodies of water or deal with coastal shore areas or otherwise, then there are diving related activities for underwater pipeline as well.
Russel: That’s pretty extensive. I guess the other thing as I’m listening to this conversation and trying to think it through, I’m curious how B31Q and what the DCA is doing with its OQ program, how did those relate?
Geoff: It’s a great question, Russel. The tie in is one of the words that you heard Mayra say early on about the B31Q. That is it lists out the core competencies.
When we go back to the discussion about the OQ Integrity Process, we said we’re trying to make a very clean distinction and acknowledgement of what’s a core competency that should be universally true and then therefore adopted throughout the industry versus what may be unique to an operator.
When the B31Q was put together, it was very intentionally written to focus on core competency and not operator specifics.
As you can imagine, getting into a large committee and getting into verbiage discussions, making sure that language wasn’t used that might put too much focus on how one particular operator performs an activity versus another so that core competencies is very intentionally designed to be universally true.
The DCA OQIP process specifically adopted the B31Q as the base model for that integrity process because we knew already the work effort that had gone into that and the focus around core competencies and the level of academic and industry knowledge that went into setting expectations that would hold up to scrutiny in any audit.
It is a very diverse group of individuals that come together. Some of the folks that sit on the OQIP Coalition also actively participate and sit on the B31Q. There’s a common language that’s going on there. Again, that’s part of this collaborative effort, if you will, to see consistency built in the industry and eliminate some of the inefficiencies and redundancy that we’ve historically had.
Russel: Again, I’m trying to process what we’re talking about here. I’ll ask this question. Is it fair to say that B31Q is defining the core competencies as a list of tasks and that the DCA’s program is trying to turn that into a process that can be used across multiple operators?
Geoff: See, you’re already an expert.
Mayra: That’s right. [laughs]
Russel: That’s only if I can remember that. [laughs]
Geoff: That’s well said.
Mayra: I would like to add a little bit on to Geoff’s comment there to give you a setting of where we’re at today. Where we talked about the pain point for the contractor side and how this makes this possibility of that portability to just be greatly accepted by our industry and our contractors, a benefit, a win-win situation.
Today, an operator, they may adopt the B31Q. They may have their own. Each contractor, if we have a contractor that’s working for multiple operators, they’re having to requalify over and over if there’s changes, even if it’s the same task, like line locating, for example.
With the first operator, they will take the training. Then they have to go to another operator then and maybe have to take the training again and then another operator and take the training again.
By allowing the core competencies to be the universal area that we’re working with the DCA on, they would just need that core competency training. It would follow them from one operator to another. Then they would, from there, just take the training on a unique operator-to-operator-to-operator basis.
That definitely will be an area that will improve the way that the contractors are handling their business as well as carrying their qualification over from one place to another.
Russel: That makes a lot of sense. As I’m sitting here thinking about this, I’m thinking about how safety programs are administered. I’m particularly thinking about what’s referred to as the TWIC card, which provides a method of identification and a method of verification of some base level understanding around the safety of hazardous facilities operating in ports.
It means that now when I go to a plant, I have a TWIC card. That provides me a level of access. Then I can do a level of additional or incremental training that’s site-specific, but I don’t have to make sure that you have all the basics.
Geoff: That’s exactly right.
Russel: Interesting. What do you think is the path forward in this domain? What’s coming next around operator qualification and contractors in particular?
Geoff: As we’ve heard in some of your other podcasts and in general as we’ve talked a little bit about today, the answer is not necessarily more regulation. I don’t think anybody really wants to see that.
Certainly, PHMSA has indicated that that’s not their primary driver. We would rather see it happen at a safety culture level and adoption of a program effectiveness, where we’re making sure that our programs are actually generating the results that we [want to] see.
It’s a timing issue on where we can get the most energy and movement for it. We really need companies at all levels, operators, and contractors to step forward and be vocal and participate.
States are going to have to do what the states have to do. As we see these movements like we referenced with the New York DPS, there’s nothing wrong with what they’re doing. Fundamentally, they have to make sure that the citizens in their state are safe and that companies are operating properly. They have that desire to put that model program together.
That’s really the key word right there. The DPS white paper really went through a series of issues and then talked about a model program and what that meant about what should be addressed in terms of training, testing, physical evaluations through observation, the need for integrity and security in the programs, and the auditability of all that information.
That, in its essence, is exactly what the B31Q is about, is creating a model program through how you structure tasks and identify core competency. That is what the OQ Integrity Process is all about, is creating a model program for the administration and the accountability of qualifications.
We break it down into three areas, people, process, and program validation, or you call it audit. Everybody’s trying to get to the same place, but they have unique requirements that have to be met. Part of it is about the core skill safety orientation, technical competency of the worker.
The other one is uniquely knowing, in any given environment, for any given operator, how they uniquely need to have the work done. We’re trying to balance those two out. My hope is that what we see next is embracing the movement for industry to drive this model and not necessarily to have to see regulations.
I’m hopeful that along with all this effort that’s going on, that the pipeline safety management system effort and pipeline construction quality management systems, those efforts all come together to really have a grassroots, industry-driven solution versus a regulatory-driven one.
Russel: Mayra, anything to add to all of that?
Mayra: Yeah. Just to add Geoff’s comment there, we truly believe the path forward would be for operators to consider and to use the B31Q as core competencies for their training and their universal task requirements.
That will allow for portability. This would permit that the core competencies from the B31Q to follow the employees until they’re requalifying when the next requalification interval would be.
Then the supplemental training that the contractors would need to take would be just on an operator to operator basis based on their requirements or their standard operating procedures or even at a state level.
There are some states that would require an additional training that goes above and beyond whatever the federal requirement may be. At least if they accept the B31Q as the core competencies for the training, then that would be more standardized in our industry. It gets us to speaking the same language.
Russel: As I often do at the end of a podcast episode, I’m going to try and capture a handful of key takeaways in this conversation. For a guy who’s brand new to this whole domain, other than…Notionally, anybody in pipelining has heard about OQ, but to the idea of a program, I’m new to that. I’m going to try to capture my takeaways. Then you guys can give me a grade as to how I did.
The first key takeaway is start with B31Q. Look at that as your baseline. The second key takeaway is then look at what DCA is doing with its OQIP program as a way to manage the distinctions that are site or operator specific.
Then the third takeaway — we didn’t really talk about this — is that does not only apply to contractors who are working across multiple operators and their unique requirements. It applies to operators and their need to manage a program across multiple states and through multiple geographies where their needs might be different.
How did I do? What do you give me? Give me a letter grade. Tell me how I did.
Geoff: You got an A, A-plus. You nailed it.
Mayra: I was going to say A-plus, yes. [laughs]
Russel: Very good. I feel good about that. Do I get a report card?
Geoff: You’re a quick learner.
Russel: You guys pass out paperwork that confirms these things.
Geoff: We’ll send you a certificate. How’s that?
Russel: That’d be awesome. [laughs] Geoff, Mayra, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. We look forward to continuing the conversation.
Geoff: Thank you for having us, Russel. It’s been a real pleasure.
Mayra: Thank you, Russel. It has been a pleasure to speak with you and be on the podcast.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Geoff and Mayra. Just a reminder before you go. You should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit pipelinerspodcast.com/win to enter yourself in the drawing.
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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