Pipeliners Podcast


Russel Treat is pleased to welcome back measurement advocate and industry consultant Ardis Bartle to the Pipeliners Podcast to discuss the latest trends in measurement training.

The episode is based on the whitepaper on trends in training that Ardis presented at the AGA Operations Conference in June. Ardis discusses her research on where measurement technicians are learning their trade, why failures happen in the field, the importance of creating clarity about measurement in the industry, and how accurate measurement can achieve cost savings and compliance.

Download this episode to get unique insight from Ardis on the measurement aspect of pipeline operations to increase your knowledge and awareness of the latest trends.

Trends in Measurement Training: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms

  • Ardis Bartle is the Manager of Apex Measurement & Controls and a representative for Gas Certification Institute (GCI). Connect with Ardis on LinkedIn.
  • Measurement is the ability to accurately, reliably, and repeatedly measure the contents of natural gas, liquid, crude, and refined products.
  • The Fleet Review Panel (FRP) of Surface Force Readiness was written by Vice Admiral Phillip M. Balisle to the commanders of the U.S. Fleet Forces and U.S. Pacific Fleet. The FRP assessed the “surface force readiness” of the U.S. Navy across the “man, train, equip domain areas,” with a recommendation for “corrective actions.”
  • CBT (computer-based training) is a method of training that uses a computer or computer software to train a large group of individuals on a specific task or role.
  • Sarbanes Oxley was a regulatory act introduced in 2002 by two U.S. Senators designed to address malfeasance in deregulated industries following the Enron scandal. SOX 404 determines a company’s internal system of checks and balances. [Read Ardis Bartle’s complete report on how Sarbanes Oxley affects gas measurement in distribution and pipeline systems.]
  • The Charles K. Vaughan Training Center is a dedicated, speciality-built training center for Atmos Energy employees. Trainees learn how to install meters, inspect and repair pipelines, respond to emergency situations, and prepare for real-life scenarios.
  • Northwest Natural built a training facility called “Training Town” in Sherwood, Oregon, that provides classroom education and hands-on learning experience for their field employees to respond to issues with natural gas lines, house meters, and residential gas appliances.
  • The Marshall Incident refers to the Enbridge Incorporated Hazardous Liquid Rupture and Release incident, which occurred on July 25, 2010, in Marshall, Michigan. [Read the full NTSB Accident Report.]
  • The API Pipeline Conference is a gathering of energy and oil & gas professionals. The latest API Pipeline Conference and Cybernetics Symposium took place April 24-26 in St. Louis. The conference featured dozens of important sessions on pipeline safety, CRM Rule compliance, leak detection programs, and the latest technology for pipeliners.
  • Watch the video of a Cessna 172 pilot taking off, flying, and landing a private plane with no prior real-life flight experience, based only on his experience with a desktop flight simulator.
  • Spectra Energy and Enbridge announced their merger in February 2017 to create what they described as North America’s “premier infrastructure company” for delivering, transmitting, and distributing natural gas, liquids, NGL, and crude.

Trends in Measurement Training: Full Episode Transcript

Russel Treat:  Welcome to the “Pipeliners Podcast,” Episode 30.

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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:  Thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. We appreciate you taking the time, and to show that appreciation, we’re giving away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener each episode. This week, our winner is Emma Bain with Berkana. Congratulations, Emma, your YETI is on its way. To learn how you can win this signature prize pack, stick around to the end of the episode.

This week, our guest is Ardis Bartle. Ardis recently presented a whitepaper at the American Gas Association Operations Conference, and she’s here to talk to us about that paper and trends in training.

Ardis, welcome back to the Pipeliners Podcast.

Ardis Bartle:  Hi.

Russel:  It’s so good to have you again. I’m really excited about this conversation. This is one of those places where what you’re doing and what I’m doing are different and the same all at the same time.

We have asked you to come on and talk about trends in training. I know you recently wrote and presented a paper at the AGA Operations Conference on trends in training. Tell me about the paper, what was it about, and why did you write it?

Ardis:  Back in 2017, as I’m driving along, I’m hearing about a rash of accidents with the U.S. Navy. During an NPR interview, one of the admirals [laughs] just basically says, the reason we’re having problems in the U.S. Navy is based on training from multiple government reports. I started delving into this.

When an organization as monolithic as the U.S. Navy starts seeing problems and danger signs in their training, I’m looking at trends in the marketplace, and I’m in gas measurement.

We’re having similar trends in our business, and so I wanted to write a paper that reflected both of those trends and what’s occurring in the business and how we might avoid something happening similar to what happened at the U.S. Navy.

Russel:  I think that’s awesome and obviously, you work in measurement, primarily. I work in pipeline operations primarily, and training is a topic in both of those domains. What do you think makes the Navy a good comparison for pipelining or for measurement?

Ardis:  That’s an excellent question. It’s because it’s exactly similar to the industry we’re facing. First of all, they have an aging workforce just like we do. Secondly, they have a highly-trained workforce. These are people who are basically preparing for surface warfare. These are people who are handling highly technical equipment.

Essentially, they’ve got to bring the next generation on as quickly as possible with all the new technology that’s coming on board.

Russel:  Yeah, I think there’s another one as well, probably doesn’t relate as much to measurement but it relates very directly to the pipeline control center, and there’s a correlation between crew training on the deck of a warship and crew training between the pipeline control center and the other folks they interact with.

I think there’s a very strong corollary there.

Ardis:  You are exactly right. What’s interesting about the U.S. Navy is they saw danger signs about this back in 2009. There was actually a study done called the Fleet Review Panel of Surface Force Readiness. The panel, basically, came back — and this was chaired by Vice Admiral Phillip Balisle — and he just said that the surface force readiness across man-to-man was not where it needed to be.

The report pointed to a number of decisions that were taken in the late 1990s that drastically reduced the professional development and the hands-on training of the sailors.

What the paper or the report concluded was that, and this is back in 2010, “Sailors are not arriving on board ready to do what’s needed of them. Officers are not arriving on board with correct baseline knowledge of surface warfare fundamentals.”

The panel pinpointed a variety of reasons for the lack of this readiness. Most prominently, however, was the fact that the [laughs] Navy essentially had eliminated all field training, and relied on computer-based training.

Russel:  I’ve got to stop you right there. Say that again, only slower this time so the listeners can really absorb what the Navy was saying because I think this is a big deal.

Ardis:  The panel pinpointed a variety of reasons for the lack of readiness. Most prominently, however, was the fact that the Navy essentially eliminated field training for a reliance on computer-based training. The quote is, “Over the shoulder training that was once the foundation of surface force training had vanished.”

Russel:  Why was that so?

Ardis:  The U.S. Navy needed to get the people out into the field as quickly as possible and saw a reduction of years of training.

For example, I will take Bryan McGrath, a former commanding officer of the USS Buckley. He said that when he was a Navy ensign in 1987, he spent a year driving a warship. He attended classes, simulators, spent time in war water steering a patrol craft.

He said when he showed up at his ship, he had an unbelievable amount of education about the basics of what my ship was doing, how to navigate it, how to maintain it, and how to operate it. That was back in ’87.

Then, 20 years later, McGrath is commanding his own ship, and he’s witnessing these ensigns that are coming on board with no more months of anything but classes under their belt. He says they’ve been given a load of CDs. That’s right. He was stunned to learn that their skillsets compared to what he had been expected to know when he came on board was totally inadequate to take the skills of a surface warrior that they needed.

What had happened was back in 2003, the U.S. Navy said, “We’re going to issue our junior officers a set of training CDs that would meet two goals, it would save money by doing away with months of classes and make sure that our crews got to their ships quickly.”

Kevin Eyer, who’s a retired Navy commander, explained that you were given 21 CDs, you were sent to your ship, and that’s all you needed to learn before you took your first job in the U.S. Navy.

The presumption of the U.S. Navy was — and Vice Admiral Peter Daly said this — that the seasoned officers were expected to teach you your skillsets when you are on board.

The problem was the U.S. Navy never allocated time during the sailing in order for this to occur and didn’t dedicate dedicated people. They were expecting the seasoned professionals to implement it. This haphazard on-ship training started to get a name.

It was called — and the Navy termed this — “training on the margins” approach, which was a way of saying that there was no dedicated training time set aside for the ships. The crews trained while underway in limited time or underway periods.

By the time that the Navy came back in 2015 to review what was occurring, they noticed that there was a shortfall of hands-on, field, over-the-shoulder training occurring in most of the ships based out in the Pacific.

Russel:  In your paper, which I read — and by the way, I think your paper was excellent. In fact, we need to, and we’ll do this, we’ll create a link in the show notes so that people that are interested can come to the podcast site and find the paper.

I thought it was a really well-written paper. There’s a chart in there, along the Y axis, you’ve got each year, and along the X axis, you’ve got number of incidents. You’re just tracking along, tracking along, but all of a sudden there’s this big spike in the number of incidents. It’s pretty compelling.

Ardis:  There were as many instances in 2017 with the US Navy — and some of them were fatal — as there were over the last 20 years in the US Navy.

Russel:  I think this warrants a little exploration. I’m certainly not an accident investigator, but I certainly read all the things that the NTSB puts out about pipeline safety accidents. What I think happens is as your competency and capability gets diminished, it’s kind of like a floodgate.

If you think about a floodgate coming down, coming down, coming down, coming down, when it finally gets to a certain level, it’s not like one or two things trickle over. It’s like everything trickles over and then you got to raise the floodgate back up.

Ardis:  What’s interesting is while this is all going on at the US Navy — of course, everything they predicted in a 2009 study came true in 2017 — the American Gas Association and the industry is dealing with two major problems.

One, the disassemblage of Enron created a new regulation called Sarbanes Oxley. The industry is now grappling on how to provide transparency to one of their most critical functions, which is gas measurement. The measurement of their gas is the cash register of their company, so now they’re trying to give that high visibility.

They’re also looking at professionals who are now aging out of the industry. The American Gas Association at the same time is writing a whitepaper called, “Understanding How to Train a Measurement Technician.”

This whitepaper is an interesting whitepaper because it talks about the skillsets, the aptitude, the on-the-job training that is absolutely required to implement and to train a measurement technician.

Russel, would you believe me if I told you in order to make a measurement technician proficient, it takes 456 hours minimum of training for basic skills?

Russel:  Yeah, I actually think that’s low. I think the low side is twice that number.

Ardis:  Here’s the struggle in the industry. AGA sends a whitepaper out and some companies do a superb job of jumping on it and implementing. If you go up to Atmos Energy, up in Dallas, they built the Charles Vaughan Training Center.

Russel:  That is a showplace. Very, very cool facility.

Ardis:  Northwest Energy built their Sherwood. You’re seeing that many of the pipelines are taking the training of their measurement technicians consciously to make sure that they have the right skill sets. The challenge is the rest of the industry.

We’re not picking on producers, we’re not picking on midstreams, we’re not picking on gatherers, but some of them still advocate training by the Big Bubba method. Are you familiar with the Big Bubba method?

Russel:  Of course. They try to do everything.

Ardis:  Big Bubba takes Little Bubba out on the truck and explains to him this is how we do measurement.

Russel:  It’s not really Big and Little, it’s more Old Bubba and Young Bubba, but I get your point.

Ardis:  As soon as Little Bubba has a problem, all he knows is what he’s been told to do, so he has to pick up the phone and call Big Bubba.

Big Bubba spends all day on the phone talking to 10 different technicians trying to resolve problems instead of training them to know what they’re supposed to do when they’re out in the field.

Russel:  Oh my God. That is so very on point. Let me actually add a little illustration to this. We recently did a podcast on pipeline team training, which is a new PHMSA requirement for the control room.

It’s a requirement that was a rule making that came out of the Marshall Incident, related to some things that didn’t work as desired in the control room.

One of the frequently asked questions that PHMSA came back with is — basically they said, and I’m paraphrasing here — computer-based training is not adequate for team training.

Ardis:  Of course.

Russel:  I think the regulators and others are beginning to realize that. I would take another illustration. We’re talking about training and about pipeline operations. I talk a lot about aviation. I haven’t been in the Air Force, but I have a little bit of understanding of that — not a pilot — around all that stuff.

If you think about would you want your airline pilot to be showing up day one for work, and the only thing they’ve done is gone to a classroom and they’ve been given a briefcase full of CDs? Do you think that would be adequate for you to feel safe flying on that aircraft?

Ardis:  It’s worse than that. I’ve got a guy on a pipeline doing measurement. He’s working with someone else, and everything he’s been taught is CBT training.

When does he learn practical field experience? How often does he get to practice it before he’s put out on his own and he’s actually capable of causing a major accident?

There’s enough accidents out there according to PHMSA that reflects lack of training or lack of skill sets in operating the pipeline.

Russel:  At the API Pipeline Conference, there were actually several very good presentations on training and training programs. One of my key takeaways from that was the focus should be on competency versus training.

The outcome being I want people who have the competency to perform the task effectively and safely.

Ardis:  This what AGA says in their whitepaper: “However, skill development through exposure to actual field experiences cannot be simulated in a classroom or computer-based training.”

Even AGA constantly is emphasizing that you cannot train a measurement technician by CBT and expect him to be successful for what you’re attempting to do.

Russel:  I don’t know if I can find this, but if I can, I ought to try and find it and link it up in the show notes. There was a Google video — let me give the context for this. There was a guy who was an expert on the computer game flight simulator where you fly a Cessna aircraft from your computer screen. Somebody said it’d be really cool to see if this guy could actually fly a real airplane.

They got a pilot. They put this guy in the co-pilot’s seat, and he did everything on the checklist to fly this aircraft. He was able to get the plane started. He taxied. He took off.

After they got the aircraft back parked on the ramp, they were asking the instructor, how did he do. He said he did amazingly well, but he needed some help on the landing. This really gets to the point. That’s kind of the most important part.


Russel:  What we need to do is we need to make sure that in our training programs, we’ve got an adequate level of experience so that they’re actually good at the landing.

Ardis:  That leads me into my next discussion, which is this is one of the challenges of the industry. First of all, let’s just talk about I have training. I have allocated resources to training. Who’s going to do this training?

Am I going to take my most senior people who are out there solving those measurement issues and take them out for weeks at a time to do training?

They’re not in the field. Who’s going to do that training? To prepare for one day of training takes about a week. To do a week’s worth of training, it’s four weeks of someone being out of the field. Now I don’t have that person in the field anymore, and I have them tied up in training.

Another issue is, standards and practices are constantly being updated. In 2017, there were over 20-plus standards, either updated, re-released, or new that companies need to keep track of.

Third is, I need to be training to my standard operating procedures, so when is the last time I looked at those and got those updated, and made sure those are in compliance with everything that changed last year, in order that I can train to what’s most relevant?

It’s just not one issue. I can put money and budget aside for training. Now, how do I execute that? It’s the same issue the U.S. Navy was dealing with.

If I take away and do CBT classes, and I expect the field to do it, then how do I allocate the U.S. naval officers’ time, readiness, and preparation in order to do this besides our everyday task?

When you look at everything that’s occurred, it’s easy to go back and look at the U.S. Navy and provide a study because that’s a very monolithic organization.

They have a Secretary of Navy, they report to the president, everybody has to follow in line, so it’s very easy to go back and do a study and see where the issues are for them.

They’re working very hard right now to change the type of training that they do in order to address these failures, and you can see it. 2018 is already half over, and we have seen a reduced amount of accidents in the U.S. Navy, but the gas measurement industry is a little bit different.

We basically have a different set of cultures. Gas measurement technicians are kind of triaged in the industry. They actually wear multiple hats. How often do you talk to a measurement guy that also works on compressor stations, and also is responsible for telemetry and 10 other items?

The gas measurement guy just doesn’t need training in what he does, he has to have training in 14 other things that he’s also responsible for.

Russel:  One, you’re talking about gas measurement. Two, and I know you well enough to know you don’t mean just gas, you mean gas, and liquids, and crude and…

Ardis:  Agreed.

Russel:  …refined products and all that. One of the things that happens is, I’m a measurement technician, so now I know gas measurement, and I know gas analyzation and I know laboratory sampling.

I know tank gauging and all this measurement domain, and by the way, I know the computer systems. I know the telemetry, and I know the EFM devices, and it just grows, and grows.

Its challenge is, and I’ll say this out of my own experience, but the challenge is, as that domain gets broader, you necessarily get dated in some areas because you can only stay current in so much of the domain because it’s changing very fast.

Ardis:  Here’s what’s interesting about the measurement business. One, it’s the cash register. You need to be SOX compliant, but also, it is a dangerous industry. You are dealing with dangerous product and so if you’re safety, you always have training budget.

If you’re regulatory, you always have training budget. When you get to measurement, since measurement’s not something that all companies understand, that’s the first thing that gets cut, and that has one of the highest impacts on what you do every day…

Russel:  I would argue that when the money starts getting cut, it’s not just the measurement guys that get their budget cut, because I guarantee there’s regulatory folks out there that would like to see more training dollars available as well. It’s not just the measurement guys.

The challenge I think is this. We’re talking a lot about CBT and CBT by itself how it’s inadequate. CBT can fill a role, but the problem is, you’ve got to think about training as a program.

You’ve got to think about, what are the competencies I need? You’ve got to think about, well, what’s the domain of competent things that’s reasonable to have in one brain? We’ve tended to go to this place thinking that, I’ll give them everything on CBT, and then they can do anything.

It’s proven now. We’ve got the factual evidence that you’ve uncovered with the Navy, in the paper that you’ve written, that that doesn’t work, that there’s another level of deliberateness required that’s about competency.

Ardis:  These are highly technical, these are jobs that require safety, competency, and hours of study, and it cannot be done in these two industries.

One of my recommendations is, as an industry, for gas measurement, we’ve never gone out and looked at, what is really required? What data do we have to determine what amount of time do we need for on-the-job training?

We have a whitepaper, but have we ever done a study on that? Have we ever…

Russel:  That’s a great point, Ardis, because the whitepaper is notional. When I say notional, I should explain for the listeners what I mean by that.

The AGA whitepaper on training was written as an exercise of the measurement committee within AGA given various departmental leaders at the operating companies, and their experience, capturing it, and coming to some consensus.

That, by definition, is notional. It’s not supported by research, or fact, or any testing.

Ardis:  We’ve also never gone out to a lot of these companies, like Spectra. If you go to Spectra, they have a formalized training program that’s based on classroom and fieldwork for their pipeline, which is now Enbridge or Atmos.

To determine and judge the success of these training programs, they internally have probably done this, but not as an industry.

We’ve never discussed the need for comprehensive testing. We have something called operator qualifications in the industry, but we don’t really have anything on the measurement side for that.

Russel:  Operator qualification has been driven mostly out of safety, not out of…

Ardis:  Exactly. Finally, it would be great to know how many companies [laughs] have totally dedicated measurement technicians versus the community that’s wearing multiple hats.

Russel:  If I were to make Ardis Bartle queen of the world or queen of the measurement world, because we’ll define your domain a little more narrowly than the world, what would you undertake as an initiative here to help the industry get their measurement competency development in better order?

Ardis:  I would do a study. I would try to identify where we are being successful in training and where we are not, with organized training programs, and then “informal” training programs.

Unfortunately, my fear would be that I would find the informal would be more prevalent than the formal, and then how do we address that from here on out.

Russel:  I think that’s actually an interesting idea. It would certainly be interesting to see if there’s support for trying to do something like that. It’s an interesting idea.

My brain’s spinning a little bit because I’m sitting here and I’m wondering about, what would that take to actually do?

Ardis:  I think the first thing is, we would have to get absolute clarity with management what measurement means, what measurement is, and why measurement is so important from not only a cash register point of view but a Sarbanes Oxley point of view.

Honestly, a lot of CEOs have never served in a measuring position on their way up, so they don’t necessarily have absolute clarity in that.

If you look at the go-forth path of an Exxon executive or a Shell executive, very few of those guys have ever spent a year or two in measurement. That’s not where they spend their time.

Russel:  They come up from operations more normally.

Ardis:  That’s why measurement at a CEO level does not have a lot of visibility, understanding, or clarity on the importance of that. That’s just been my experience when I’ve sat in a room with a bunch of CEOs trying to explain to them why their measurement might have issues.

Russel:  In these kind of operations, and I’ll talk more to the pipeline world, the challenge in a leadership role is the number of domains where you have to have at least some modicum of technical understanding is extremely broad.

What you end up doing is, you end up relying on your various subject matter expertise. They’ll know if they have a measurement problem, and they’ll know who their subject matter expert on that measurement problem is within their group.

That’s in place, but there’s an interesting conversation about training, because you’re talking about it from a measurement perspective. I think of it in a more holistic standpoint. I’m thinking about it from an operations standpoint, because it’s not just measurement where this is an issue.

This is an issue all up and down the operating chain where measurement is, one, very important, but it’s not the only part. You’ve got, in pipeline particularly, cathodic protection, pipeline integrity, and then all the physical operations of the rotating equipment.

All of that has training requirements. In those domains, too, I’m certainly not as knowledgeable there, but I would assert that they’re using a lot of CBT, and they’re using a lot of on-the-job training. There’s not a lot of deliberate training program content.

Ardis:  What’s interesting is, the U.S. Navy actually did a study and predicted these failures. What are we doing in the natural gas business to help us predict our failures on the measurement side of our training aspect?

That’s basically what I want to point out too is the trends and the danger signals that are going across right now in my whitepaper.

Russel:  Ardis, thank you for being on the Pipeliners Podcast. If somebody is looking into measurement training and would like to get in touch with you to learn more about what you’re doing, or what you might be able to bring to the conversation, how would they get in touch with you?

Ardis:  I would suggest that they go to two websites. One is gascertification.com, for the whitepaper. It will have the information there on the AGA paper, and my contact information, and then apexmeasurement.com, which we’ll also post the paper on.

Russel:  Very good. Thank you so much, and I appreciate your being here and really some valuable information.

Ardis:  It was an interesting paper. Thank you, Russel.

Russel:  I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast. I certainly enjoyed the conversation with Ardis and what she was able to educate me about about training and some of the challenges with putting in a good program. I think that’s certainly something that we can all gain some value from.

Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our Pipeliners Podcast customized YETI tumbler. Simply visit pipelinerspodcast.com/win and enter yourself in the drawing.

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Russel:  If you have ideas, questions or topics you would be interested in, please let us know on the Contact Us page at pipelinerspodcast.com, or you can reach out to me directly on LinkedIn. My profile is Russel Treat. Thanks again for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.

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