The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Energy Tomorrow Radio: Episode 95 - Pipelines: Safely Supplying Energy

Jane Van Ryan

Jane Van Ryan
Posted December 1, 2009

In this episode, I interview Tim Felt, CEO of Colonial Pipeline Company, on the safety and reliability of the U.S. pipeline network and his company's impressive safety record.

Today, Colonial celebrates 10 million hours of employees working without a lost work-time injury. This represents more than seven years of employees working safely as they deliver fuels to U.S. consumers.

During this period of time, these pipeline workers have weathered hurricanes, completed major construction projects and excavated thousands of pipeline segments to visually inspect the integrity of the steel pipe.

Use the audio player below to listen to the conversation and follow along with the show notes. I hope you find the podcast informative.

Show Notes:

00:17 Have you ever considered how gasoline and diesel fuel reach people at the retail level? Before these fuels are loaded onto trucks for transport to service stations, they usually move through pipelines, which are like arteries in your body, carrying energy supplies throughout the country.

00:34 One of the largest pipelines is the Colonial Pipeline which carries oil products from refineries along the Gulf Coast to population centers along the Eastern Seaboard. And today, Dec. 1, 2009, Colonial is celebrating a milestone in its long history.

01:05 Today, we are celebrating 10 million man-hours without a lost-time entry.

01:13 That equates to seven years. We started in February 2002 and officially reached our goal the day after Thanksgiving (Nov. 27). It covers everything that we do 24-hours-a-day, from field operations, field construction activities, internal maintenance activities--every part of the pipeline operation.

01:46 The safety record also covers Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the back-to-back hurricanes in 2005.

02:00 We were fortunate that most of the pipeline had very little physical damage. The pipeline is below ground and the tanks were protected. Most of the surface damage was repaired or addressed quickly after the storms passed. The biggest disruption we had was the availability of product from the refineries because they had to shut down and take time to get back up. Also, we move product with large pumps and motors that require electricity, and the unavailability of electricity took us a little while to get full operations restored.

02:40 A lot of crew members were working long hours in what could have been fairly dangerous conditions.

02:50 In some cases, crew members and contract employees were working 24-hours-a-day to restore operations. You have to work through night conditions; you don't have optimal conditions when you have debris to work around, not just in our facilities, but along the right-of-way. We had to fly over the pipeline to make sure that there wasn't something disruptive between our facilities because the pipeline is underground and crosses roads and waterways. We had to make sure that we could operate safely all along the pipeline, not just in our main centers.

03:03 Colonial Pipeline employs just under 700 people and we have about 5,500 miles of pipeline. We start in the Gulf Coast area--Houston, Louisiana area--pick up from a number of refineries there, then we move to the east, southeast and northeast corridor in the Mid-Atlantic area. We terminate just south of New York City.

04:08 We are a significant source of the refined products that supply the Eastern Seaboard. There are other refiners in the Northeast that supply gasoline, diesel products and heating oil to people--some of it might come in from overseas or barges. But for the most part, we are an extremely large-diameter pipeline and are able to move large volumes of product very efficiently and safely using our pipeline network.

04:50 If you were to line up trains and trucks carrying gasoline, it would require thousands and thousands of miles of trucks to deliver the amount of gasoline that pipelines deliver. It wouldn't be possible to deliver the volumes of gasoline that we require in this country without pipelines. If gasoline was delivered without pipelines, there would be increased traffic on roadways and railways. Pipelines can do it so efficiently and safely, it just adds to their value.

05:41 We handle the safety of pipelines with a couple of programs that fall within a very significant integrity management program made up of many aspects of maintaining the pipeline--from inspecting it with the latest technical devices called "smart pigs" to maintaining the right-of-way.

06:37 We have an operations center that operates 24-hours-a-day, monitoring pressures, temperatures and volumes of the product. It also looks for anything that could possibly signal something wrong with the pipeline.

06:51 Finally, we participate with the one-call agencies, the Common Ground Alliance and the 8-1-1 phone number, "Call before you dig," where we partner with different entities that are doing construction or other activities along our right-of-way to add to the eyes and ears watching over the pipeline.

07:31 The pipelines are safe and dependable, but they are not perfect. Along the way, we have had regulations that have encouraged us to become safer. We as a company, and as an industry, are always looking for the latest technology to help maintain the safety and integrity of the pipeline. We have been more involved in public awareness; if the public is more informed and aware of pipelines in their neighborhoods, they can act as extra eyes and ears for pipeline companies and for their own safety.

08:31 It goes without saying that we have great people that are dedicated to the safe and reliable operation of the pipeline. They understand the value that we play in serving the energy needs of people in the country. They take that responsibility very seriously. We are also fortunate to continue to tap into new forms of technology and improve the existing systems that we have. Public awareness also helps our success.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jane Van Ryan was formerly senior communications manager and new media advisor at the American Petroleum Institute (API), where she wrote blog posts and produced podcasts and videos. Before coming to API, Jane managed communications for a large science and engineering corporation, and for a top-tier research and engineering university. A few years ago, you might have seen her in your living room when she delivered the news on television. Jane officially retired from API in 2011 and now freelances as an independent communications consultant when not gardening at her farm in Virginia.