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Williams Hiring Outside Auditor for Facility Safety Review

Following three major incidents in less than a year at three of its big onshore natural gas facilities, Williams is commissioning a third-party independent company to conduct a companywide safety audit, a spokesman told NGI on Thursday.

The Tulsa midstream company already had begun an internal safety audit of its facilities after the most recent incident at the Opal, WY, gas processing facility and major storage hub. The facility was partially shuttered for two weeks following a fire in one of five cryogenic processing trains (see Daily GPI, May 6; April 24). The facility, with total capacity of 1.5 Bcf/d, had returned to levels of about 1.1 Bcf/d by early May with four trains in operation. Damage was said to be limited to a "small area" of TXP-3, which was able to handle up to 390 MMcf/d.

In late March, a fire erupted in one of two storage tanks at a storage facility near Plymouth, WA, injuring several employees (see Daily GPI, March 31). The facility serves Northwest Pipeline Co.

And last June, two people were killed and close to 80 injured following a major fire at the Williams Olefins LLC facility in Geismar, LA (see Daily GPI, June 25, 2013). The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration late last year cited Williams for six process safety management violations, including one classified as willful (see Daily GPI, Dec. 12, 2013). Geismar is set to restart in June, and a large expansion is under way (see Daily GPI, May 2).

All three facilities were operated by Williams Pipeline Partners. Federal investigators, including the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, are probing the incidents. A top official told Bloomberg on Thursday that the trio of accidents was "unusual" and might require a more thorough investigation.

Williams spokesman Tom Droege said he couldn't provide many details. However, management is "cooperating with all of the oversight agencies...We have initiated a safety audit internally."

In addition, Williams is in the final stages of "commissioning a third-party, independent company to do a safety audit" of the entire organization. Details were being finalized this week.

Speaking to analysts during a quarterly conference call earlier this month, CEO Alan Armstrong promised a thorough internal investigation of the string of incidents, which happened at three of the most reliable units in the organization.

"We've always been very focused on being safe and being reliable," Armstrong told analysts. "And certainly, this has come as a big surprise to our organization. I can tell you, this has my full attention and the attention of our board as well.

"We're conducting very thorough investigations into each incident [to] determine if there's any common or root cause that's common...One thing that is common, which is a bit surprising perhaps, is that these historically have been some of our safest facilities when you look at typical industry standards for safety...and certainly had gotten high marks from regulators previously, kind of across-the-board."

However, "we're looking hard to determine what other contributing factors may be out there and to make sure what we're doing as an enterprise, to make sure that we're doing our business in as safe a manner as possible, not just for our own benefit and our employees' benefit, but to the industry's benefit as well..."

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