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The Necessary Details for Pipeline Tactical Response Planning

Posted on Thu, Sep 03, 2015

Pipelines play a key role in the sustainability of our economy. Pipelines deliver millions of gallons of crude oil and petroleum products across every state so that communities can commute and travel, maintain homes and businesses, utilize modern communications systems, and manufacture thousands of products that are used in daily life.

In 2013, 192,396 miles of pipelines transported nearly 15 billion barrels of crude oil and petroleum products. Controversies develop because these vast pipelines often share common acreage with waterways, residential neighborhoods, businesses, schools, and municipalities. Despite strict regulations, pipeline incidents do occur. Because these common geographic boundaries exist, it is imperative that tactical spill response plans contain site specific details that are unique to the location and landscape.

Pipelines present a distinct risk since it is not practical for them to utilize secondary containment. When a spill occurs, impacts can be costly to the environment, surrounding communities, and the pipeline company. If a worst-case discharge were to occur, the impacts can be devastating on multiple fronts. However, the faster the spill can be contained, the less impacts it creates.

Spill prevention should be the primary objective. However, by creating location-specific tactical response plans, pipeline companies and operators can identify and compensate for key geographical challenges that may delay responding to and managing a pipeline emergency. The planning process should involve a detailed site examination and anticipated response analysis, as well as an understanding of the characteristics of the pipeline contents.

The primary objectives of tactical response plans are to:

  • Allow response personnel to prepare for and safely respond to spills
  • Ensure an effective and efficient response despite geographical challenges
  • Identify potential equipment, manpower, and other resources necessary to implement a spill response
  • Outline response procedures and techniques for combating the spill at a specific location
  • Improve regulatory compliance efforts
  • Minimize impact zones

Tactical spill plans should include location-specific details that include, but are not limited to:

  1. Photographs of response locations
  2. Maps
  3. Latitude and Longitude
  4. Property owner information
  5. Driving directions to the site from main roads
  6. Description of potential staging area(s)
  7. Specific response tactics for the site location
  8. Description of site and applicable waterways
  9. Site access specifications
  10. Security requirements
  11. Waterway flow rates
  12. Any critical response information that may be informative to responders
  13. Recommended equipment and personnel to implement response strategy
  14. Sensitive environments

Pipeline spills within waterways increase the complexity of a response. They require a higher level of coordination and communication in effort to minimize impending impacts. As a result, companies must maintain optimal pipeline spill response standards to address challenges. Those challenges include, but are not limited to:

  • Response time must be minimal due to spill flow rate and travel distances
  • Potential substantial equipment deployment
  • Waterway access points
  • Coordination and cooperation efforts with private landowners
  • May require extensive geographic surveys
  • Associated increased costs of deployment
  • Consequential costs associated with long-term cleanup activities 
  • Extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats, fishing, and/or tourism industries
  • Potential lawsuits

Analyzing possible spill trajectories through topographical features, wind speeds, and water flow rates allows planners to identify which areas are most likely to be impacted by a spill. Once these resources have been identified, proper response techniques and procedures specific to the sensitive areas must be incorporated into the response plan. Types of sensitive areas to evaluate during the planning phase include, but are not limited to:

Ecological: Examples of sensitive species include shore birds and other water fowl, marine life, commercially important wildlife, and species with limited distribution or populations. Sensitive habitats range from protected bays with marshes and tidal flats to open coast areas used as marine mammal or bird breeding sites.

Cultural: Areas of direct importance to humans including, but not limited to native lands, historical landmarks, waterfront parks, and recreational areas.

Economical: Populated areas that are highly valued because of their ability to generate income. Areas include tourist sites, real estate developments, urban developments, marinas, parks, and other locations.

Specific sensitive resources: Specific resources that are only available at that particular location, such as specialized suppliers, water sources, transportation systems, food sources.


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Tags: Tactical Response Planning, Pipeline, Oil Spill