Gas Pipes Urged to Learn from Bellingham
Electric generation's growing appetite for natural gas is
propelling rapid changes in the gas industry's traditional business
practices that will pose greater challenges to pipeline safety,
says the chairman of the INGAA Pipeline Safety Task Force.
"Now it's the growth in this particular market segment that is
going to dramatically impact how interstate pipelines are going to
be used and how capacity additions will be made in the future,"
said Fred Fowler, also head of Duke Energy's transmission group, at
the INGAA Foundation's third annual North American Pipeline Safety
Summit in Washington D.C. last Wednesday
At Duke Energy, for example, the company is seeing "the need for
higher pressure requirements at the end of the [pipeline] system"
to feed electric generation plants, which potentially raises new
safety concerns. "We're also seeing much higher swings as those
generation [plants] trip on and off multiple times over the [course
of a] day. We're seeing storage systems that are being dispatched
on an economic basis year-round.....rather than the old traditional
approach of injection in storage over the summer period to meet the
high demand in heating load for the following winter." Also, he
said the bulk of the electric load is a summer peak, which means
pipelines are going to have a lot more throughput during the
traditional off-peak period for gas.
"The good news is [these] anticipated changes in that growth
throughput opens up a lot of opportunities for efficiency, and that
will drive lower costs for pipelines and customers alike," Fowler
said. On the flip side, however, "there's obviously going to be
more public pressure to regulate our industry because of [greater]
environmental, safety concerns" posed by year-round demand for
The public's interest in natural gas pipelines is
"unprecedented" largely due to the Internet, which allows
landowners to better organize, he noted. Although gas pipelines are
the "safest means" of transportation, Fowler reminded pipeline
executives at the INGAA summit that there is no "silver bullet"
when it comes to pipeline safety.
While interstate natural gas pipelines last week suffered a
major setback in the Senate on safety legislation, a key pipeline
safety official with the Department of Transportation (DOT)
commended gas pipes for the advances they have made in protecting
the public and environment from the potential safety threats posed
by their systems. But, she noted, there's much more to do.
"...I'm here to tell you that we're not there yet," said Kelley
Coyner, administrator for DOT's Research and Special Programs
Administration (RSPA) at the summit. The RSPA oversees the Office
of Pipeline Safety (OPS).
"Before us is the challenge of finishing our work. We must take
all the information operators have about risks to natural gas
pipelines and address them comprehensively. We must also continue
to improve our communication with the public and with state and
local officials about what those risks are and how they're being
addressed," she told a crowd of gas pipeline executives.
"Our best opportunity to do both effectively is to ensure that
Congress passes comprehensive, balanced, common sense pipeline
safety legislation this year. Right now you have the opportunity to
pass the most comprehensive pipeline safety legislation in our
nation's history, and we must seize that opportunity." A day after
Coyner spoke the Senate Commerce Committee voted out a pipeline
safety bill that gas pipelines contend was far from "balanced" (see
related story this issue).
In the wake of the explosion of a Texas Eastern Transmission
line in New Jersey in 1994, DOT learned that its inspections and
enforcement actions weren't enough to guarantee safety, she said.
"Together, we have made much progress" since then. "Unfortunately,
we were reminded by tragedy [in June 1999} that we need to continue
those efforts." Coyner, of course, was referring to the explosion
along the system of Olympic Pipe Line, a products pipeline, that
killed three last year in Bellingham, WA.
"That catastrophic event underlined the importance of
comprehensive integrity management, of public communication, of
damage prevention and research." DOT earlier this month said it
would impose a $3.05 million civil penalty against the products
pipeline - the largest ever proposed for a pipeline operator.
"...[W]hat we cited them for is instructive to all of us," Coyner
said, enumerating the violations: