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OPS Steps Up Inspection of Gas Pipes, Duke Exec Says

OPS Steps Up Inspection of Gas Pipes, Duke Exec Says

Although a proposed rulemaking process to beef up safety inspections of natural gas pipelines isn't expected to get under way until early 2001, a Duke Energy executive says the Department of Transportation's Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) already has taken it upon itself to step up its oversight of interstate gas lines.

"I think they've already acted on that. They're inspecting much more frequently already and much more aggressively," said Andrew Drake, director of mapping codes and metallurgical services for Duke Energy, who spoke at the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) hearing on pipeline safety in Washington D.C. recently (see NGI, Nov. 20).

Agency plans to seek additional funding to double the number of federal inspectors from 55 to 110 are an indication "they intend to increase that even more," he told NGI. "They intend to get much more involved in reviewing our practices [beyond] just compliance with the prescriptive regulations."

At the hearing, "I think they [OPS officials] were pretty clear that they felt they would be issuing something in the spring of 2001 for natural gas pipelines," Drake said. He believes it will be a proposed rulemaking that will be "very similar" to the final rule recently issued for large hazardous liquid pipelines, requiring mandatory inspections at least once every five years.

He voiced concerns about NTSB Acting Chairman Jim Hall's belief that in-line inspection, specifically smart pigging, was the only method for accurately detecting problems on gas pipelines. He "seemed to equate inspection with pigging. He seemed to feel like the only adequate inspection was pigging."

But Drake said he and other speakers addressing pipeline integrity at the NTSB hearing "rallied around the point" that while "in-line [inspection] is an important and valuable tool, it does have limits." The drawback is that it "has a hard time finding certain types of anomalies in the pipeline."

There "is no silver bullet...We can't rely on in-line inspection to solve all of our problems," Drake noted. Other inspection methods widely used by natural gas pipelines include hydrostatic testing, direct assessment, risk management and risk assessment techniques.

"The U.S. gas pipeline infrastructure was not designed to accommodate internal access. So a lot of pipelines are not piggable, but that doesn't mean we aren't going to inspect them," he said.

"We have to find another way to inspect them. We can't just excuse our obligation of ensuring integrity where we can't pig...Ensuring [pipeline] integrity is a complex business. It's not a simple issue of just mandating a singular tool. It's a matter of embracing the whole of risk management."

Susan Parker

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