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This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features Jackie Smith and Sam Acheson of PODS discussing how the Pipeline Open Data Standard supports pipeline integrity management.

In this episode, you will learn how PODS can help pipeline operators comply with the Mega Rule, the benefits of using PODS resources in your operation, and how the Deming Method can be utilized to support total quality management and continuous improvement.

PODS for Integrity Management: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms

  • Jackie Smith is the president of PODS and a GIS IT Architect for Williams. Connect with Jackie on LinkedIn.
  • Sam Acheson is on the PODS Board of Directors and a principal, Integrity Management Systems, for ROSEN Group. Connect with Sam on LinkedIn.
  • PODS (Pipeline Open Data Standard) supports the growing and changing needs of the pipeline industry through ongoing development, maintenance and advancement of the Data Model and Standards. PODS also serves as a member association to maintain the PODS Data Model.
    • The Pipeline Open Standard is a database schema (architecture) for pipelines. It functions by creating populated database information relevant to the life-cycle of a pipeline.
    • PODS 7 is the latest version of the Pipeline Open Data Standard, released in May 2019. [Members-only access]
    • The PODS Association is a not-for-profit industry standards association that develops and maintains the PODS Data Model — the pipeline data storage and interchange standard for the oil & gas industry.
    • PODS Lite is a FREE subset of PODS 7.0 and provides an opportunity to preview and evaluate the PODS 7.0 Pipeline Data Model capabilities and value.
  • The Mega Rule is a set of new pipeline safety standards issued by PHMSA in October 2019 that brings 500,000 miles of pipeline under federal jurisdiction to ensure the safe transport of gas product.
  • Mill Test Report (MTR) is a quality assurance document used in the metals industry that certifies a material’s chemical and physical properties and states a product made of metal complies with international standards and organization-specific standards.
  • The Gas Gathering Rule (Safety of Gas Transmission and Gathering Pipelines) was initiated in 2016 when PHMSA issued a notice seeking comments on changes to the pipeline safety regulations for gas transmission and gathering pipelines. The proposed rule has advanced through various stages to expected issuance in 2019.
  • Integrity Management (Pipeline Integrity Management) is a systematic approach to operate and manage pipelines in a safe manner that complies with PHMSA regulations.
    • CFR 192 and 195 provide regulatory guidance on the pipeline transport of natural gas and hazardous liquids, respectively.
    • HCA (High-Consequence Areas) are defined by PHMSA as a potential impact zone that contains 20 or more structures intended for human occupancy or an identified site. PHMSA identifies how pipeline operators must identify, prioritize, assess, evaluate, repair, and validate the integrity of gas transmission pipelines that could, in the event of a leak or failure, affect HCAs.
    • MCA (Moderate Consequence Area) is Moderate Consequence Areas of gas transmission pipelines.
  • E&P (Exploration & Production) is known as the upstream segment of the oil and gas industry.
  • Maximum Allowable Operating Pressure (MAOP) is a pressure limit set, usually by a government body, which applies to compressed gas pressure vessels, pipelines, and storage tanks.
  • The San Bruno or PG&E Incident in September 2010 refers to a ruptured pipeline operated by the Pacific Gas & Electric Company. The rupture created a crater near San Bruno, California, caused an explosion after natural gas was released and ignited, and resulted in fires causing loss to life and property. [Read the full NTSB Accident Report.]
  • NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) is an independent U.S. government investigative agency responsible for civil transportation accident investigation. 
  • ILI (Inline Inspection) is a method to assess the integrity and condition of a pipe by determining the existence of cracks, deformities, or other structural issues that could cause a leak.
  • VTC (Verifiable Traceable Complete) the ability to describe and follow the life of a requirement in both a forward and backward direction (i.e., from its origins, through its development and specification, to its subsequent deployment and use, and through periods of ongoing refinement and iteration in any of these phases).
    • TLA is a three-letter acronym.
  • Deming Method is a continuous quality improvement model consisting out of a logical sequence of four repetitive steps for continuous improvement and learning: Plan, Do, Check (Study) and Act.
  • Total Quality Management is a system of management based on the principle that every staff member must be committed to maintaining high standards of work in every aspect of a company’s operations.
  • Bernoulli’s Law is a physical principle formulated by Daniel Bernoulli that states that as the speed of a moving fluid (liquid or gas) increases, the pressure within the fluid decreases.
  • Webmaps are online maps created with ArcGIS that provide a way to work and interact with geographic content organized as layers.
  • Esri is the largest GIS software supplier in the world. Esri holds an annual International User’s Conference in California.

PODS for Integrity Management: Full Episode Transcript

Russel Treat:  Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 102, sponsored by EnerSys Corporation, provider of POEMS, the Pipeline Operations Excellence Management System, SCADA compliance, and operations software for the pipeline control center. Find out more about POEMS at enersyscorp.com.


Announcer: The Pipeliners Podcast, where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations. Now, your host, Russel Treat.

Russel Treat: Thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. I appreciate you taking the time and to show that appreciation, we are giving away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener each episode. This week, our winner is Mark Schlagenhauf with the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission. Mark, congratulations, your YETI is on its way.

This week, we have Jackie Smith returning and Sam Acheson joining us for the first time to talk about PODS in a continuing conversation about the Pipeline Open Data Standard, and in this case, specific to integrity management.

Jackie, Sam, welcome back to the Pipeliners Podcast. Now, for the listeners, it’s probably been a few weeks since y’all have been on. For us, we just finished another conversation a few minutes ago, but it’s all good. It’s all good. Welcome back.

I asked you guys to come back. I wanted to talk about the Mega Rule because I’ve done several episodes on the Mega Rule and particularly the Gas Gathering Rule, and by the time this episode comes out, it’s going to be in the code.

There’s a lot more pipe that’s going to get gathered up. There’s a lot of people out there who think their E&P operators, but they’re actually gathering operators, and they’re going to get…PHMSA’s going to be eyeballing them to…At the very least, they’re going to have to get records about their pipe pulled together.

Hopefully, we can put some stuff together here that’ll be helpful to folks that are watching for what those changes might be. What are some of the key aspects from a PODS standpoint that you think you guys are going to address well as it relates to what’s being called the Mega Rule?

Jackie Smith:  Sure. Again, this is Jackie Smith. For those of you who may have not listened to prior podcasts, I work for Williams. I’m an IT architect and the President of PODS, which is a volunteer position. I’m a PODS evangelist, if you will. I am not an expert. I try to be. I keep trying to learn.

I’m not an expert on the Mega Rule. However, there are some things in the Mega Rule that I think PODS is going to be central to enforcing. One of the first things, I believe, is the materials, enforcement of the material properties.

For example, the PODS model has the storage for that data. If I want to store more information about the materials that make up the pipe, I can store those attributes. There’s also a section where I can actually link drawings and documents. I can store those links in the database. The design of the model accounts for that, that data storage and that link to documents.

Russel: Again, I’m getting outside of my water here for sure, but when pipe is manufactured, it comes with a spec sheet, right, for every stick of pipe. One of the things that you’ll be able to do is get those kind of records into PODS if you’re building anything new.

Jackie: Right. We store the mill test record, I believe.

Russel: There you go.

Jackie: Yes, that’s the…

Russel: That’s the fancy technical word I was looking for.

Jackie: That’s one of the key attributes that we store in that pipe segment, each pipe segment, yes.

Russel: Cool.

Jackie: That’s not going to change. That’s critical. That just provides that foundation for other operators or smaller operators.

Russel: What about legacy pipe? How does that get support? How are you going to get those material records captured and into PODS?

Sam Acheson:  Yeah, that’s a great question. By the way, Jackie got to introduce herself. My name is Sam Acheson. I have also been on the previous episode. I work with a company called the ROSEN Group. My focus is software systems and system-level consulting services. We are doing a lot as it relates to the “Mega Rule.”

You asked about how these records get in to PODS, and in mentioning the MTRs, when the pipeline is constructed, whether it is in a digital documentation trail as it relates to the current standards we have now or just the kind of paper as building projects from a historical sense, a lot of that information is attainable whether it’s in paper format or you’re looking up paper documents that have been transitioned digitally over the years, you can usually go back and find most of ht information.

Of course, given history, you’re going to have gaps in that information, correct?

Russel: I don’t know, actually. I think it’s a really…I know enough about small gathering companies and I know enough about smaller E&P companies that a lot of times, they put those flowlines in the ground and they never had any records on them at all.

Sam: Good point.

Russel: If you get to things that have been built more recently, that’s certainly not true. People have records. Things that were built even 15 or 20 years ago, there’s a lot of six-inch and four-inch pipe in North America that was put in over 20 years ago for which I would suspect little, if any, records exist.

How am I going to get…I think it’s one of the aspects that’s interesting about the whole Mega Rule is the gathering part, and the fact that they’re bringing in a whole bunch of pipe. Basically, now, anything that is class one pipe that is eight inches are larger is under the rule, and you’re being asked to create records for — I can’t remember this exactly — a larger set than that. A much larger set than that, you’re being asked to create records for.

That means that if I’ve got eight-inch pipe, I’m going to need to have materials property verification.

Jackie: As far as the historic data that you may not have any record for, PODS isn’t going to solve that, right? [laughs]

Russel: Well, of course not, yeah.

Jackie: For the data you do have record for, we do have a module called the history module that we’re building with PODS 7 that follows that thought process of what are we going to do with legacy pipe or how would we store it or what’s the archival process for your pipe.

It’s going to answer those type of questions. That module is being built. At least we’ll have a data standard for how we handle that. Not all companies are going to implore that method, but it’s a way that we can solve that problem.

Russel: Right. I think ultimately, what a lot of people are probably going to have to do is, over time, some level of direct assessment for the places where they don’t have records. I think that’s what’s going to occur.

Sam: I think that you are right there. I know that there are technologies that are emerging that are allowing for some of the sensors that are being put on some of the inline inspection tools to actually take some of those readings.

That, in combination with some advanced algorithms and some really smart people looking over the science behind the data that’s being collected, can start to derive some of those material properties of those pipes. Again, thinking back about the structure of the PODS database being able to compare what we find in the pipe with what is in that “system of record” inside of that PODS database will allow you to look at some of the deltas.

Now, how that relates to size of pipe and inspectability of the pipe, I think, again, that’s a larger question.

Russel: Yeah, that’s certainly outside of any kind of PODS conversation.

Sam: Exactly.

Russel: I think it does point out that because of the way that the PODS model is built…Now, I’m becoming a PODS evangelist. You’ve recruited me. Hallelujah! Can I get an amen?


Jackie: Says the church.

Russel: Exactly. I think one of the things that’s true is because of PODS Lite, I’ve got a place I can start and I can get my basic information in, and at least I’ve got something. Something’s better than nothing.

Sam: That’s a good point, Russel, and maybe we weren’t taking the cues that we should have here in the conversation because a very important point to think about as it relates to PODS is it’s a data model. It’s a structured way on where to store pipeline attributes.

If you are an operator like Jackie’s company, Williams, that is leveraging the core version of PODS to store the pipe properties but also leveraging all of the modules that extend on it, you’re going to want to be investing in the PODS organization. You’re going to want to have the PODS full blown model, and that does come at a nominal price.

For organizations now who were not looking at a regulated world and who are now staring down the barrel of now I have to, like you said, document these pipes that are in the ground and figure out a place to store them, PODS has actually thought ahead of the game. It’s offering what’s called PODS Lite as a solution, as a structured solution to that.

At its core, it is everything that the full PODS model is. It just doesn’t have the modules. I do believe, though I could be speaking incorrectly, you can download and use the PODS Lite model for free. It is not a lite model at all, but you don’t have that ability to then contribute back into the PODS organization as a volunteer.

Jackie: Right, and it doesn’t come with the extendibility tools to extend it and build upon it. PODS Lite will never change. The way it is right now, I’m pretty sure was just kind of a way to build on to our PODS 7.

Russel: Before we got on the mics, I spent a little time. I don’t know how big this poster is, but it’s probably three feet by four feet or thereabouts.

Jackie: It’s the size of a toddler.

Russel: The size of a toddler, a couple of toddlers.

Jackie: Maybe taller.

Russel: Yeah, a couple of toddlers. It’s a fairly good size. I think one of the things that’s valuable here is it also helps me understand what are all the kinds of records I should be storing, right? For that reason alone, it’s got value if I’m wondering what records do I need to be creating.

I can just review this document here and get a pretty good idea of what I need to be keeping.

Jackie: Right. Traditionally, when people think of PODS, they may think of something that’s the transmission company or they may through a term out called linear referencing.

If I’m a gathering system, I can just put my pipe as a coordinate or as a surveyed point into this data model and PODS Lite accounts for that as well. You don’t have to do anything more. You can just get the bare minimum.

Russel: Yeah, and that’s a huge deal for gathering and for flowlines and for gas utilities and folks like that with kind of a network of pipe versus a straight run.

Sam: The other thing that’s very nice about adopting a standard like this PODS Lite model if you’re not a conventional transmission or midstream operator is there is a host of very qualified vendors in the PODS world that could help unweave some of that complexity for your organization.

Russel: Right, absolutely. There’s a bunch, and there’s consultants and the whole gamut of folks that know all that stuff.

Sam: Exactly.

Russel: We talked about materials property verification, one of the aspects of the rule that PODS can support. What are some of the others?

Jackie: You were rattling this off earlier. [laughs]

Sam: I just don’t want to be the only one talking.


Russel: That’s not true, Samuel that he doesn’t want to be the only one talking. Let’s be honest.

Jackie: There’s the MAOP reconfirmation part of the ruling. This is where you have to reconfirm your MAOP. Am I right on that? We’ve got places in the model where we can store things like your inline inspection and your hydro tests and where you can track that and get historic MAOP records as well.

Russel: Right, because one of the things that’s going away, if I understand, is the grandfather clause. We should probably talk about that if we’ve got one of the three of us that can talk about that because I can’t.

Sam: From my understanding, pipe of a certain vintage was grandfathered in and allowed to operate at a designated percentage of its…

Russel: This comes out of the San Bruno issue or incident, yeah.

Sam: Now, operators have to reconfirm their maximum allowable operating pressure.

Russel: Yes. I’m not an expert on this, but I’m remembering the NTSB report on San Bruno. That was one of the recommendations that all pipe be reinspected to verify its MAOP.

Sam: Correct. If we think about PODS as, using a nerdy term here, the system of record, a system that records what happens to your pipeline, you want to know what those properties are of your pipeline at any given time, but at a point that you have to reconfirm those, you also want to track how you reconfirmed it. Was that through inline inspection? Was that through hydro tests?

You want to crack the meta data on who was there and then what the results were, and maybe have the ability to trace to any documentation that you have. All of those foundations are right inside of that data model, and again, just making it so people don’t have to reinvent the wheel when they go to solve a problem.

Russel: Yeah, VTC. Did I get the TLA correct? VTC?

Sam: Yes, you got the TLA correct.

Russel: Verified traceable complete?

Sam: Yes. That buzzword is so two years old, buddy.


Russel: Not to me. To me, it’s about an hour-and-a-half old.

Jackie: I think it’s been around since the ’70s or something, the need for it.

Russel: Sam and I were talking about this off mic, but we were talking about the Deming method and total quality management. A lot of what we’re talking about in terms of continuous improvement and this type of stuff, it all comes out of Deming’s work.

Sam: Yep. I have to totally sidebar an anecdotal story here. My father-in-law had coffee with Ed Deming in his basement about 30 years ago.

Russel: Oh my gosh.

Sam: I’m going to have my father-in-law listen to this conversation now just so he can hear me recant that.

Russel: You know what? I’d actually like to get your father-in-law to talk about…Deming is like some of the greats of science, but his science was a different kind of science. A hundred years from now when people are looking back at the industrial revolution and what really changed it, it’s going to be Deming.

He transformed the Japanese car market, and then he transformed the U.S. car market, and his stuff is now just accepted. We don’t even argue about it. It’s like Bernoulli’s Law. We don’t even argue about it. It’s just fact, right?

Sam: Yeah. The thing that I like about it is if you read on Deming, and not to continue this thread too long, a lot of very complex science and complex statistics went into it. He was able to break it down into such digestible chunks.

Russel: He made the complex very understandable. It was one of his gifts.

Sam: Yes, even guys like me could…

Russel: One of his gifts. He came up with a systematic approach for doing that, taking very complex systems and breaking them down and making them understandable. Then, getting everybody who’s working with the system to participate in improving the system.

Sam: So, to bring that back to this conversation or at least to try to, if you want to embrace Plan Do Check Act and if you want to embrace continuous improvement, consolidating on a known standard and a centralized repository for that information is foundational to applying these.

Russel: Sam, that was very nicely done. I think the last episode I did this to you, and you just did it to me. I was chasing a rabbit there, and I came right back to what we’re talking about. Basically, that’s what PODS is. You’re on version seven, and it’s been a collaborative process, and it’s a common way to understand location centric information in pipelining.

Sam: Yep. I often tell people when they ask why they should implement the PODS model, I say, “Because this organization has got about 30 operators and about 20 vendors in a room racking each other on the head to come up with a consensus, so it’s probably pretty well-vetted.”

Russel: The other thing I think that’s important about something like that, and again talking to folks that are looking at the Mega Rule and have maybe not really thought through what they need to do to get onboard around pipelining and what does it mean.

If I were starting from scratch even if it’s not perfect and it’s not going to be, nothing is, but at least it’s close there as you can get with a group of experts working on it for a couple of decades.

Jackie: Exactly.

Sam: As it relates also to a lot of things that we’ve been touching on in this conversation, one of the smartest clients I ever worked with was also one of the…Would the right word be defenseless? He didn’t put up a lot of walls around him. We were implementing a PODS model for him.

Everybody wanted to go through and check it and verify it and make sure the data was good, and he said, “Nope. Put up what you’ve got and the first of you can publish it and put it in Webmaps and get it out to our field crew,” because when those guys see bad data, they’re going to pick up the phone and they’re going to say, “No, that line isn’t there. That line is over here.”

If you relate that then, again, to what we were talking about with some of the gathering regulations that are coming into place, get the data into a model, get it published…

Russel: Sam, that’s brilliant.

Sam: Maybe I shouldn’t have said it. If you’re a competitor, do not listen to what I just said.


Russel: No, seriously, if you think about that, you’re absolutely right. The people closest to the asset are the ones who have the knowledge. The goal is to get their knowledge as easily as possible into the dataset.

Sam: Yep, and guess what else they’re doing? They’re retiring.

Russel: Yes. We want to get it to them before they leave.

Sam: You want to get that in the system before they leave.

Russel: Yeah, I can tell a story about that. I’m not going to go there this time. It’s very important because people that were there when the pipe went in the ground, they know.

Jackie: Right. PODS can be configured to use in the field and on a mobile device. It may not be plug and play, but it can be.

Sam: Oh, it’s totally plug and play, Jackie.

Jackie: It’s plug and play to go in the field?

Sam: Oh, absolutely.

Jackie: Explain that.

Sam: We take that stuff, we put that in, publish a couple of feature layers…

Russel: Now, Sam, you’re showing up like a sales guy. For the record, there ain’t no such thing as plug and play, not in our world. There’s plug, screw with it some, and then play.

Sam: All right. Well, that’s…

Russel: The question is how much do I got to fiddle with it before I get it working just for the record.

Sam: I am going to challenge you just a little bit on that. I come at things from a technology standpoint. I am not one that likes to preach and evangelize on specific technology providers. However, I will say in the last couple of years of my experience, what Esri has done to bring the “platform” to people, it is as close to plug and play as I have ever seen in this industry.

What PODS has done engineering the standard, you can implement it in many different ways, but it natively bolts on to this Esri framework. Again, not to preach on these, but I was put in the hotseat in front of a client that asked me to publish data for them, and it was very easy and very simple.

Russel: Well, plug and play’s a buzzword that’s used in technology that, if you’re not careful, everybody interprets it a different way. What you’re talking about is somebody who’s taking a product and very deliberately implemented a solution, but that ain’t plug and play. That’s just it’s already there.

Sam: Oh, okay.

Russel: That’s something different.

Sam: At our point, we get to plug and play now.

Russel: The other thing we talked about that’s coming, that’s new is MCAs. That’s going to affect a lot of people because this idea of a medium consequence area and what is that and how is that different and distinct from a high consequence area, I think that’s fairly material. You guys have already worked that into PODS as well, right?

Sam: Yep.

Jackie: We have?


Russel: Was that you asking me? I don’t know.

Sam: Remember, it was plug and play, Jackie.

Jackie: Oh, yeah. Moderate class area, yeah, I know we have an area for class location, the high consequence areas…

Sam: Yeah. PODS has modeled the concept of high consequence areas, right?

Russel: Right.

Sam: I have actually seen two different ways to think about a medium consequence area. One is an extension on that HCA designation. The other is modeling a table similarly but calling it something different. In that, PODS itself is always extensible. You can always modify it. You can always create your own tables. You can use other tables as a foundation of how to do that. Then, yes, it is there.

Then, if you traverse your pipeline, apply some logic to the traverse of the pipeline, and then you store that data right back to that PODS model, you can track your MCAs very well.

Jackie: Right, and I think you’ll have to get more granular in your public datasets that you may consume as an operator. Your population datasets, your structures. You’re going to have to spend a little more money there to get that good data to make that analysis, “Okay, this is a high,” or, “This is a moderate.”

Russel: Yeah, there’s certainly going to be a lot of work that has to happen there to get that fully implemented.

Sam: Is it medium or is it moderate? I’ve heard both.

Jackie: I’m pretty sure it’s moderate.

Sam: Okay, moderate.

Jackie: That’s what I’m going with.

Russel: Okay, it’s moderate. Actually, I don’t know. The only way I had heard it referred to is medium, but, again, I haven’t…That’s a part of the rule I haven’t read. I got really focused on the Gathering Rule a couple of months ago trying to understand what the impact was going to be on the control room.

I found the idea of medium consequence, high consequence more of an integrity management thing than it is a control room thing. I haven’t really…What I’m trying to say here is I don’t know. I don’t know about that.

Sam: I just heard both. I think I’ve heard moderate more recently.

Russel: Well, I’m the one who’s supposed to ask the questions, Sam. What are you doing asking me, man?

Sam: It’s my sales guy coming out in me.

Russel: That’s great. Anything else we want to say about PODS and the Mega Rule and the folks who are picking up pipeline data for the first time? Anything else we want to add to that as we wrap up this segment?

Jackie: Just to reiterate that PODS Lite or an implementation of PODS 7 is your baseline foundation for getting that good quality data to adhere to the Mega Rule. I think that’s just bottom line. What else?

Sam: The only thing that I would say is it looks daunting and it looks challenging. It’s really not. There is a little bit of a learning curve there. I think that as it relates to things as important as material properties verification, PODS is going to be very central in who did it, when it was, what the results were, kind of that meta data around it to be able to then turn around and through regulatory compliance show that you are complying or implementing the rule change as it’s coming out.

Russel: Right, cool. Guys, thanks so much. This has been really great. I’ve enjoyed the whole series of episodes. As we see PODS mature, I’m sure we’ll get back and have the conversation again in the future.

Jackie: Great, thanks.

Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Jackie and Sam. Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit pipelinerspodcast.com/win and enter yourself in the drawing.

If you would like to support the podcast, the best way to do that is to leave us a review. You can do that on iTunes or whatever smart device podcast application you use to listen to your podcasts. You can find instructions at pipelinerspodcast.com

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Russel: If you have ideas, questions, or topics you’d be interested in, please let me know on the contact us page at pipelinerspodcast.com or reach out to me on LinkedIn. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.

Transcription by CastingWords

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