Following the lead of the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC), the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) last week, in the interest of public safety, issued a national series of natural gas pipeline recommendations involving compression couplings.

DOT issued an advisory bulletin to the nation’s gas distribution operators to identify issues with compression couplings, which are fittings that join two pipes together. The federal advisory bulletin comes on the heels of pipeline directives issued last month and late last year by the RRC as well as a release of a detailed study of compression couplings in the state.

“The Railroad Commission is a national leader in pipeline safety, and we appreciate this recognition of our efforts to maintain a vigilant pipeline safety program,” said RRC Chairman Michael Williams. “We are pleased that other states’ regulatory bodies and utilities will be following our lead.”

In October 2006 and in March 2007, compression couplings were involved in two explosions in Texas. Following an investigation the RRC recognized that the two incidents both involved certain types of compression couplings, and it began an inquiry into the continued suitability of these types of compression couplings. Following the two incidents the RRC said it requested that natural gas utilities supply information on installed compression couplings. As a precautionary measure the RRC adopted a mandatory replacement program for compression couplings in specific circumstances. The RRC also issued a report on its findings from an analysis of historical data and data provided by utilities on the use of compression couplings statewide.

The DOT advisory addresses failures related to certain mechanical compression couplings and steps that operators can take to resolve the issues. The advisory notes that it is difficult to cite common criteria affecting all failures but urges operators to review their procedures for using mechanical couplings and ensure that coupling design, procedures, leak surveys and personnel qualifications meet federal requirements.

“The leading cause of pipeline incidents in Texas is still third-party hits,” said Williams. “The RRC and the DOT can direct pipeline operators on general and specific actions, as we’ve done with compression couplings, to improve the safety of pipelines, but the real power for improving pipeline safety is in the hands of homeowners and contractors when they call 811 before they dig.”

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