Pipeline Safety: Trust but Verify

By Mark R. Rosekind

Yesterday I had the opportunity to give the opening remarks at the Pipeline Safety Trust’s 7th annual pipeline safety conference in New Orleans, “What Does ‘Trust but Verify’ Mean When It Comes to Pipeline Safety?”

The Trust, an organization that fosters common goals in advancing safety, gathered a unique mix of the public, advocates, local government representatives, industry and regulators to promote safe fuel transportation through education and advocacy. This year’s event attracted attendees from 31 states and several countries. It is the only venue of its kind open to anyone striving for the goal of zero pipeline accidents.

As the nation moves forward after the elections and begins to identify domestic priorities, this is a pivotal time for America’s pipelines. With pipelines in the spotlight during this year’s presidential campaign, high-visibility accidents in the recent past and transportation infrastructure maintenance high up on the Washington to-do list, the Trust has ramped up its efforts for greater public involvement in pipeline safety like never before. The conference was an ideal setting to promote the NTSB’s safety role and strengthen connections.

In fact, in advance of this meeting, this summer the Trust brought a delegation of pipeline safety advocates to the site of the San Bruno, Ca., pipeline explosion where they discussed strategies for increasing and sustaining public involvement in a whole range of pipeline safety matters. The NTSB’s reports on this accident and others provided a roadmap on why these disasters happen and what needs to be done. Thirty-nine recommendations came out of the agency’s report on the “Pacific Gas and Electric Company Natural Gas Transmission Pipeline Rupture and Fire” in San Bruno. Ten of these were urgent. Nineteen recommendations resulted from our investigation into the Marshall, Mich., accident, “Enbridge Incorporated Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Rupture and Release.” These set the foundation for my remarks yesterday.

First, meaningful metrics are vital for safeguarding the public from future pipeline accidents. Looking back at past performance and using data-driven actions that provide a realistic picture of how well pipeline operators and regulators are performing are key. In addition, non-punitive reporting systems increase the rates of incident detection and encourage safety culture. Second, it is essential to share information across the safety spectrum from data to best practices to tested industry models. Companies should not compete on safety; zero accidents is a cross-industry goal. Third, we should trust, but we MUST verify with an unprecedented focus on safety that relies on strong regulatory oversight, routine internal and external safety audits using solid performance data, and frequent safety reviews.

In many ways, pipelines are a symbol for the country’s entire transportation system. The lessons learned from San Bruno and Marshall are universal in transportation safety and not just limited to pipelines. Safety is shared responsibility among the public, advocates, industry, and government. This is especially true as we pay more attention to the overall safety of our nation’s transportation Infrastructure comprising some 2.6 million miles of oil and gas pipelines, 600,000 bridges, 4 million miles of public roads, 120,000 miles of major railroads, 19,700 airports, and 25,000 miles of commercially navigable waterways. Pipelines are a crucial link in this complex network and it all must function at the highest levels of operational safety.

Mark Rosekind, Ph.D., is a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board. He is a frequent contributor to the NTSB blog.

3 thoughts on “Pipeline Safety: Trust but Verify”

  1. Dr Rosekind….it was a pleasure to hear your Keynote Speech at the PST conference. I am one of the PST New Advocates Voices and I believe in TEAM Together Everyone Achieves More….if all parties that attended the conference worked together we can move towards and achieve zero incidents.

  2. I appreciate the work of the NTSB in this field, and their other investigations. Reading through the NTSB Pipeline Accident Reports at various repositories gave me the knowledge that later helped me to become a pipeline safety advocate. I saw the smoke from the San Bernardino CalNev Pipeline accident in 1989 from my workplace, which easily could have been prevented with a simple hydrostatic test.

    Zero accidents is not an unrealistic goal for pipelines, for that kind of goal has led to commercial air travel in the US becoming very safe.

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