The concept of ‘zero incidents’ in the hazardous pipeline industry is a topic of increasingly widespread discussion. Although praiseworthy, there is some doubt whether the concept is actually achievable, not least on economic grounds.
Although other industries – notably aviation –
have espoused the idea with varying degrees of success, the pipeline industry is particularly hampered by having lengthy linear infrastructures that pass by, through, or close to, many communities.
A recent paper in the Journal of Pipeline Engineering (JPE) by Ian Diggory, of Rosen Group in the UK, discusses these issues in some depth. He is also co-authoring a paper on the topic at the Technology for Future and Ageing Pipelines (TFAP) Conference to be held in Gent, Belgium, in April. It is appropriate here to summarise his conclusions from his JPE paper as follows.
“We surmise that the general public may well interpret zero incidents in relation to pipeline operations to mean ‘no unplanned releases from a pipeline’. This may be a laudable ambition, but incident statistics suggest it is not practicable, particularly as pipelines continue to age and the recent dramatic drop in oil price continues to have a negative impact on maintenance budgets.
“In the absence of any clear industry definition we have considered the proposition of achieving zero incidents from a risk-assessment perspective. In that context we propose to define a pipeline incident as being a credible failure scenario.
“In doing so, implementing zero incidents would literally mean the elimination of all failure scenarios – which implies zero risk to a pipeline – and is not achievable. Therefore, we have redefined zero incidents in the context of a risk-based approach to continuous improvement as measured by an appropriate risk factor and in relation to acceptable-risk levels.
“Without defining or quantifying what are acceptable-risk levels, we have indicated the characteristics of a quantitative risk model that can provide sufficiently detailed information to determine such levels.
“Zero incidents is an abstract concept. Rather like the fabled ‘pot-of-gold at the end of a rainbow’, it is desirable but not achievable. A literal interpretation is not appropriate, but a mindset of continuous improvement associated with the concept could be beneficial for the pipeline industry.
“In that respect, it is worth considering how industries where failure cannot be tolerated, such as the aircraft industry, deal with their versions of zero incidents. The first observation to make is that these industries do indeed have incidents, but when an incident occurs there is a full investigation into its causes.
“The findings of these investigations are shared right across the industry, and lessons learned are quickly implemented. Contrast that sharing mindset with the pipeline industry, where many operators are reluctant to discuss their pipeline incidents in an open forum.
“More importantly, there is no mechanism in the industry for sharing the results of pipeline incidents on a global basis.
“A feature of those industries that they have established a zero-incident mindset is the way in which the various stakeholders, such as operators, technical-service providers, and regulatory authorities, all pull in the same direction. This is achieved by having a common goal (zero incidents?) and establishing trust between the stakeholders.
“This level of cooperation and trust must be demonstrated to the ultimate stakeholder – the general public. Far too often in the pipeline industry the relationship between the various stakeholders is adversarial, which probably contributes to the negative perception the public often has of our industry.
“Rosen takes the issue of establishing a zero-incidents mindset in the pipeline industry very seriously. So much so that it is making it the subject of its biennial Rosen Energy and Innovation Forum in May.
This event will be addressed by speakers from a number of different industries that already have a mindset of a low tolerance to incidents and will provide an opportunity for senior representatives of the pipeline industry to discuss how our industry might demonstrate its commitment to dealing with the concept of zero incidents.”
The outcomes from this meeting will be of great interest to the readers of this magazine and we hope to publish a summary in the September 2018 edition of Pipelines International.