On November 13, the pipeline task force of the Council for Dredging & Marine Construction Safety (CDMCS) met to review progress on developing pipeline safety work practices, increasing public awareness on the issues and strengthening the accuracy of underwater pipeline data.
Three teams are leading the task force: Best Practices Team, led by Devon Carlock of Cottrell Contracting; Training, Awareness & Education Team, led by Ed Landgraf, chairman of Coastal and Marine Operators (CAMO); and Government Coordination & Information Exchange Team, led by Michael Gerhardt of the Dredging Contractors of America (DCA).
In April 2018, a dredge dropped a spud on a pipeline in Matagorda Bay, Texas. This event largely spurred the formation of the CDMCS pipeline task force. Incidents like this could be prevented with more accurate records and permitting information on underwater pipelines.
While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awards permits to pipeline companies to install underwater pipelines in ports or waterways, under Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, there have been discrepancies in its permits regarding pipeline location coordinates and ownership information.
CDMCS has many initiatives to address these issues, including a best practices guide for pipeline incident prevention, developing training and awareness material for the pipeline and dredging industries, and helping to coordinate underwater pipeline data exchange.
Most importantly, the pipeline task force is bringing all the important players together – the dredging industry, the pipeline industry and the Corps – who share a mutual interest in preventing pipeline accidents.
“The dredging contractors have never had this kind of interface with the energy transportation industry,” Gerhardt said. “They are really excited.”
Landgraf of CAMO, a group whose main purpose is protecting underwater utilities and pipelines and largely represents the pipeline industry, said there are opportunities to make both industries safer. It’s a synergy not previously explored, but one that demonstrates the interconnections between industries that are often disconnected.
“What’s so special about our partnership is the dredgers recognize and fully support safety measures, and the pipeline industry realizes that we don’t want dredgers hitting pipelines,” Landgraf said. “It’s a really good partnership between the two industries, working together, avoiding regulation to try and stay off environmental incidents that happen from damage to pipelines.”
The task force has already developed some training and education material about pipeline safety and pipeline avoidance, and the group plans to do more. Best practice guides and pipeline safety awareness and damage prevention flowcharts are in the works to help the dredging industry in the field. Gerhardt said some of the guides and education material should be available later this year.
Raising awareness and communicating to both industries is important too. “We’re getting awareness out about how pipelines operate, how to recognize a pipeline, how to identify a pipeline, the call before you dig system,” Landgraf said. “On the pipeline side, we’re getting information to the pipeline industry about the information that dredgers expect, how soon they need that information before a dredging project begins, so they understand how soon they need to be engaged with dredgers.”
Location Data and Information Sharing
The major work in preventing pipeline incidents is tracking location data and updating the Corps database and permitting system to reflect accurate information.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) operates the National Pipeline Mapping System (NPMS), which shows pipelines both transiting underground and under waterways, but not those in offshore federal waters. “At our request we understand that they will begin evaluating the feasibility of providing that data as well,” Gerhardt said.
The Corps also has a separate pipeline database system, PLOVER. The work of the task force has brought both groups together to share practices and data. “We’re trying to get these agencies together that have never really talked before,” Gerhardt said. “We actually put them in the same room together for the first time.” Gerhardt said both organization are communicating broadly and sharing as much information as they can. Some progress is slow as the Corps navigates how to legally and efficiently update and meld their databases and pipeline information with other sources.
The State of Louisiana Pipeline Safety Office also operates the Strategic Online Natural Resources Information System (SONRIS) for pipeline information in the state. The task force hopes to work with additional states in the future and provide more state-level data and interaction.
One effort to begin verifying pipeline data has been undertaken in the Calcasieu River in Louisiana. “This is a big nut to crack,” Gerhardt said. “We’re going to try and take it one channel at a time.” Starting in the upper and lower portions of the Calcasieu, the pipeline transportation industry, in this case Chevron, verified XYZ data for all crossings in the channel and directly provided contractor Mike Hooks with updated ownership and contact information for all rele-vant pipeline operators. Discrepancies between Corps plans and project specifications and other databases (NPMS and SONRIS) will be evaluated. From Louisiana, Gerhardt said the analysis and pilot study will move to Texas.
More information on the CDMCS pipeline task force, its education material and meeting agenda can be found here.