The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Systematizing Pipeline Safety

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted July 8, 2015

A barrel of crude oil or petroleum product shipped by pipeline is safely delivered to its destination more than 99.999 percent of the time, but the industry’s objective remains: zero releases, zero incidents.

Toward that goal, API has just released a new standard to guide operators in the development of a systems approach to safety management – helping them to continuously evaluate their efforts and constantly improve safety. API Midstream Director Robin Rorick:

“Pipelines are safe and efficient, but we are always looking for new ways to make them better, which is why industry is embracing this new standard. It’s also a great example of what can be done when industry, regulators and all key stakeholders work together to achieve a common objective, which is to protect the public, the environment and provide the fuels Americans need.”

The new standard was created with inputs from the National Transportation Safety Board, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and other stakeholders under API’s American National Standards-accredited process.

Conceptually, pipeline safety management systems (PSMS) will be similar to the safety management systems that are being embraced by offshore oil and natural gas drillers, guided by the Center for Offshore Safety. Safety management systems are designed to evaluate and improve the various safety components used during energy development. From the new standard:

This RP (recommended practice) provides pipeline operators with safety management system requirements that when applied provide a framework to reveal and manage risk, promote a learning environment, and continuously improve pipeline safety and integrity. At the foundation of a PSMS is the operator’s existing pipeline safety system, including the operator’s pipeline safety processes and procedures. This RP provides a comprehensive framework and defines the elements needed to identify and address safety for a pipeline’s life cycle. These safety management system requirements identify what is to be done, and leaves the details associated with implementation and maintenance of the requirements to the individual pipeline operators.

The heart of the standard is a four-step, “plan-do-check-act” model for safety systems management. It is designed to encourage the creation of safety strategies and plans, execution of those strategies, checking actions for conformity and using those results to adjust future plans. Here’s the model in a chart:


The key elements of the model:

  • Plan – Establishing the objectives and processes to deliver results in accordance with the organization’s policies and the expected goals.
  • Do – Execution of the plan designed in the previous step.
  • Check – Review of the results compared with established objectives.
  • Act – The pipeline operator takes actions to continuously improve process performance, including corrections in areas where there are significant differences between actual and planned results – all with the goal of improving the process or product.

Behind the new standard is industry’s commitment to continuously improving safety while developing a safety culture. This includes engaged oversight from company leadership and implementing an overall strategy of risk management that identifies potential weaknesses and strengthens them, thereby reducing risk.

Again, our pipeline system, which annually transports billions of barrels of crude oil and petroleum products, is remarkably safe. Still, the goal is a 100 percent safety record. API’s new standard will help toward that goal. Rorick:

“We continue to be committed to safety and this standard raises that bar even further. This new standard gives operators a holistic framework to identify and address safety concerns for a pipeline’s entire life cycle.” 


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.