Petroleum and Natural gas pipelines form a large part of the Oil and Gas transportation infrastructure. They are of different materials and sizes depending on their function in the system. The United States has the world’s largest oil and gas pipelines spanning 2.8 million miles of regulated pipelines. These pipelines handle about 64% of the country’s energy products’ transportation and pipeline safety is paramount. In the article, we will look at the following:

  • How Pipelines work
  • Pipeline Safety Concerns and Regulations
  • 8 Safety Precautions to consider 

How Pipelines Work

Oil and Gas Pipelines are used in three phases. First, pipelines are used as part of the gathering system, which collects oil wells’ raw petroleum and natural gas. Transmission pipelines then move the oil and gas to processing units or refineries, where they are purified for use. The third phase includes pipes to transfer refined products to distribution stations and homes. 

Pipeline Safety and Regulatory Oversight

The construction, installation, and management of oil and gas pipelines involve compliance with several government regulations. Pipeline safety is one of the biggest concerns that oil and gas companies deal with in day-to-day operations. They must ensure they adequately address the risks and dangers of oil pipelines by taking the necessary safety precautions.

Regulatory bodies like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) grant permits for interstate pipelines. In addition, bodies like the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration (PHMSA) operate under the US Department of Transportation and oversee regulations to ensure these vast pipeline systems’ safety and environmental compliance. PHMSA outlines codes and protocols for everything from the design and pipeline construction steps to their operations and maintenance and how companies must manage spills, handle hazards in pipeline construction, and manage hazardous materials.

To maintain strict compliance with these regulatory requirements, Oil and Gas companies conduct a regular Gas Pipeline Survey. This helps them thoroughly assess the pipelines and ensure safety right through the construction, operations, and maintenance processes. 

8 Safety Precautions to consider

Here are eight vital safety precautions oil and gas companies must take to ensure smooth installation and management of pipelines.

  • Carry Out Frequent Safety Training: Companies spend millions of dollars training their staff to educate them on the risks posed by the environment in which they operate, the material they handle, or the tools and equipment they use. However, training is never a one-time activity. Even after initial training and certification, companies must conduct refresher training programs and ensure the frequent practice of safety routines. OSHA training must also be part of standard procedure during staff onboarding. In addition, several other specific programs can be conducted for staff, depending on their roles and nature of work.  
  • Foster a Corporate Safety Culture: Many organizations pride themselves on their organizational culture. In the industrial sector, safety is often one of the dominant themes built into the company’s work culture. One way that companies incorporate safety into their work culture is through safety moments. For instance, workers are huddled together for a brief and usually informal discussion on a specific safety-related topic in a construction safety moment. Safety moments can be conducted at the beginning of a shift or even later during the work routine.   
  • Ensure Proper Pipeline Excavation Procedures: Whether it’s locating and marking practices or proper sloping and benching techniques during excavation, it is vital that prescribed best practices and safety norms are followed. Companies must ensure that only adequately trained and certified staff is involved in the excavation work. OSHA regulations outline steps for safety while workers are in trenches’ such as testing the air for fumes and toxic emissions or ensuring no one works under suspended loads. Excavation tools and equipment must be in proper working condition with regular maintenance and repairs conducted to ensure the complete safety of operations. 
  • Use Appropriate and Adequate PPE While Working Onsite: Oil and gas pipeline work involves several risks, including the handling of hazardous material, the risk of falling objects, dangerous fumes, or low oxygen conditions. These risks are particularly accentuated during work like pipeline cleaning and nitrogen purging. Therefore, to ensure a proper and safe working environment, workers must be equipped with the relevant Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). These include protective glasses, gloves, boots with steel toes, oxygen masks, helmets, hard hats, etc. 
  • Ensure Adequate Training for Operators of Heavy-Duty Machinery: From cranes and forklifts to large trucks, excavators, and earthmovers, pipeline construction requires several kinds of heavy-duty machinery. Safety measures must be in place to ensure workers are well trained in the skills to operate these high-risk machines. Companies must ensure that each worker follows the necessary Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and are regularly retrained and upskilled as the job requires. 
  • Inspect all Tools Used Onsite: Pipeline construction and management involve various tools. These can range from pneumatic tools like rock drills and pavement breakers to welding tools, fabrication, pipe-laying, and electrical equipment. Frequent inspections and maintenance routines are essential to ensure the equipment used on site is in good working condition and is checked for wear and tear, cracks, or malfunctions. 
  • Use Proper Handling Techniques: During pipeline construction and maintenance work, staff interacts with machinery and materials of different kinds. OSHA outlines several procedures to be followed to ensure safe handling methods. Workers must be educated about the job hazards involved in each task. And it is also necessary that job hazard lists are prepared beforehand so that workers follow the proper handling techniques.
  • Maintain Correct Pressure Testing Procedures: High pipeline pressure can result in leaks and explosions over an extended period. Therefore, maintaining the optimum pressure level in oil and gas pipelines is one of the essential aspects of pipeline safety. Proper pneumatic or hydrostatic pressure testing procedures are needed to ensure the pipelines are free of leaks and damage. Continuous monitoring is also essential to ensure the pipelines are not operated at pressure levels beyond the maximum allowable pressure. 

In this post, we have looked at Critical Pipeline Safety Precautions to consider in the construction and maintenance of oil and gas pipelines. These steps can go a long way in ensuring the safety of workers and help companies stay compliant in all aspects of their operations.