At TransCanada, being a leader in pipeline safety means working proactively to improve our technology, our processes and the way we do business to protect people and the environment. Indications that we are going about this the right way came last week when two independent studies — one from the Senate of Canada and one led by Alberta’s energy regulator — made a series of recommendations of which most have already been implemented or are in the works at TransCanada.
On Thursday, Aug. 22, the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources issued the results of its review into the safety of the bulk transportation of crude oil and natural gas in Canada. In addition to a number of recommendations on improving safety of crude oil transport by rail, the Senate Committee recommended that the National Energy Board (NEB) partner with regulated companies to develop a program for mandatory auditing of safety culture, and that a national access point be established for information on the location of buried infrastructure and promotion of one call centres and “call before you dig” initiatives.
TransCanada participated in the Senate Committee hearings, says Vern Meier, TransCanada’s Vice-President of Pipeline Safety and Compliance, and provided expert testimony in support of both recommendations: “We are pleased to see the Senate make recommendations that are in line with our safety culture here at TransCanada, and look forward to working with regulators to make the mandatory auditing program and the national access point for pipeline information a reality.”
One day later, Alberta’s Department of Energy released the results of a joint review of Alberta’s pipeline system by the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) and an independent third party. The review strongly recommended harmonization and consistency among pipeline operators in a number of fields including risk assessment near sensitive areas, incident avoidance and response, integrity management system audits, and testing and upgrading of older pipelines. The review also expressed the need for tighter regulations governing existing and proposed water crossings and formalized criteria for training and competencies for pipeline operators, especially control room personnel.
“Just like with the Senate review, many of these recommendations are reflected in our current practices,” says Vern.
“When it comes to water crossings and water bodies adjacent to our pipelines, we use state of the art techniques including heavier wall pipe and high performance coatings. We have increased burial depths using advanced horizontal directional drilling techniques, and we utilize automated shut off valves, and erosion protection and drainage controls.”
— Vern Meier, TransCanada’s Vice-President of Pipeline Safety and Compliance
Vern adds that TransCanada already utilizes a formal training and competency development program for our pipeline operations and maintenance personnel and control room operators. “Our training and competency development program for pipeline operations and maintenance personnel and control room operators are designed to ensure that all personnel performing critical or safety sensitive tasks on the pipeline, or that could affect the operation of the pipeline, are properly qualified,” says Vern.
TransCanada assesses the integrity of each pipeline and conducts regular maintenance to make sure they can operate safely and reliably, whatever their age. “Constructed, operated and maintained properly, the life of a pipeline is infinite,” Vern says.
“To effectively operate and manage the integrity of each pipeline, we require verifiable information on its material properties and its maximum allowable operating pressure. The systems we use provide us with that information and we use it to make sure our pipelines operate within their capabilities.”
TransCanada has also being working in collaboration with the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA) to develop a program called CEPA Integrity First®, which will enable pipeline operators to share best practices on everything from community engagement to incident prevention and response. “No one in our industry has a monopoly on doing the job right,” says Vern. “We may be competitors, but by sharing information we can make sure we all have processes that protect the communities and the habitats near our pipelines. That’s good for everyone.”
In 2012 alone, TransCanada invested more than $1 billion in pipeline integrity and proactive inspection and maintenance programs to protect our pipelines and energy facilities and we plan to spend an additional $1.2 billion this year. “We believe that investing in strong management systems is the best approach to ensure continuously improving results,” Vern says. “Based on these two studies, this approach is paying dividends.”