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Are the Floods of 2011 affecting Pipeline Safety?

Posted on Mon, Aug 15, 2011

2011 may be remembered for numerous natural disasters, including the massive river flooding in the central United States. As seen in history, flooding has the potential to affect pipeline safety and increase the risk of failure.

According to the Research and Special Programs Administration of the Dept. of Transportation and the Texas Railroad Commission, extreme force of flowing water, heavy floating debris, natural erosion, and increased water pressure from high water can adversely affect pipelines. In October 1994, as the result of unprecedented flooding of rivers and streams in the Houston area, seven natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines failed in or near the San Jacinto River in Texas.

Just as in the San Jacinto River flooding, the Yellowstone River near Laurel, Montana seems to be carving a deeper channel, leaving the arteries of industrial pipeline exposed. It appears to pipeline operators that the recent pipeline rupture in the area may have resulted from recent flooding.

On Jul 8th, the Billings Gazette reported, “In the Billings and Laurel area, there is a loose web of oil and gas lines that cross beneath the Yellowstone River at least 10 times, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Pipeline Mapping System. Most of the lines were installed by trench, years before directional boring made threading pipes deep below the river possible. Trenched pipelines are in compliance if they’re 48 inches below the riverbed.”

However, as flood waters change the landscape, pipelines may become susceptable to damage. Pipeline safety regulations in 49 CFR 192.613 for natural gas pipelines, and 49 CFR 195.401 for hazardous liquid pipelines, require an operator to maintain continued surveillance of its facilities. Operators need to direct their resources in a manner that will enable them to determine potential effects of flooding on their systems.

The following are recommended industrial facility planning procedures in case of impending or extreme flooding:

  1. Perform continuous monitoring of the flood through various media outlets and weather tracking.
    Flash flood watch:  flooding is possible
    Flash flood warning: flooding is occurring or is imminent
  2. Update Supervisory Personnel when flooding is imminent.
  3. Deploy personnel so that they will be in position to take emergency actions, such as shut down, isolation, or containment in the event of emergency.
  4. Familiarize staff with the evacuation plan
  5. Take preliminary actions to secure the facility and equipment before flooding (such as sand bagging and/or extending regulator vents and relief stacks above the level of anticipated flooding, as appropriate.)
  6. Evaluate the accessibility of pipeline facilities that may be in jeopardy, such as valves needed to isolate water crossings or other sections of a pipeline.
  7. Consider having sandbags brought to sites that could be affected by the flooding.
  8. Consider obtaining portable pumps and hoses from local suppliers or from other petroleum service locations in the area.
  9. Determine if flooding has exposed or undermined pipelines as a result of the flooding or by erosion or scouring.
  10. Coordinate with emergency and spill responders on pipeline location(s) and condition, and provide maps and other relevant information to them.
  11. Coordinate with other pipeline operators in the flood area and establish emergency response centers to act as liaison for pipeline problems and solutions.
  12. Determine if facilities and/or equipment which are normally above ground (e.g., valves, regulators, relief sets, etc.) have become submerged and are in danger of being struck by vessels or debris; if possible, such facilities may be marked with an appropriate buoy with Coast Guard approval.
  13. Before evacuation, know where all the employees will be residing and obtain phone numbers so they can be contacted if additional emergencies occur.
  14. Perform surveys to determine the depth of cover over pipelines and the condition of any exposed pipelines, such as those crossing scour holes. Where appropriate, surveys of underwater pipe should include the use of visual inspection by divers or instrumented detection. Information gathered by these surveys should be shared with landowners. Agricultural agencies may help to inform farmers of the potential hazard from reduced cover over pipelines.
  15. Assure that line markers are still in place or are replaced in a timely manner, and notify contractors, highway departments, and others involved in post-flood restoration activities of the presence of pipelines and the risks posed by reduced cover.
  16. Advise the State Pipe-line Safety Office (for intrastate lines), or RSPA's Regional Pipeline Safety Office (interstate lines) prior to returning the line to service, on increasing the operating pressure, or otherwise changing the operating status of the line.
  17. Conduct a post-emergency report.
  18. Maintain hazards awareness

For tips and best practices on designing a crisis management program, download Best Practices for Crisis Management.

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Tags: Emergency Preparedness, Crisis Management, Facility Management, Flood Preparedness