Pipeliners Podcast host Russel Treat flies solo in this episode with a recap of the important information and developments from the 2018 AGA Operations Conference held in Washington, D.C.
In this episode, you will learn about the primary conversations during the conference including cybersecurity and its impact on gas control, the latest on NTSB’s involvement in pipeline incident investigations, updates to the PHMSA regulatory rulemaking process, advanced pipeline safety requirements at the state level, and training topics for the workforce of the future.
Russel Treat also reacts to PHMSA administrator Skip Elliott’s recent testimony and hearing before the U.S. Congress and the subsequent rules that will be implemented in 2019 and 2020. This is a very informative episode about the state of the pipeline industry at the mid-way point of 2018.
AGA Operations Conference Gas Control Recap: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms
- The annual AGA Operations Conference is the natural gas industry’s largest gathering of natural gas utility and transmission company operations management from across North America and the world. During the conference, participants share technical knowledge, ideas, and practices to promote the safe, reliable, and cost-effective delivery of natural gas to the end-user.
- PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) is responsible for providing pipeline safety oversight through regulatory rule making, NTSB recommendations, and other important functions to protect people and the environment through the safe transportation of energy and other hazardous materials.
- The PG&E Incident of 2010 involved 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]
- Howard “Skip” Elliott is the fifth Administrator of PHMSA. Elliott joined PHMSA after retiring from CSX Transportation in Jacksonville, Florida, where he served as Vice President of Public Safety, Health, Environment, and Security.
- Alfred Musgrove is a Gas Control Operations Specialist Supervisor for Pacific Gas & Electric Company. PG&E is leading a transformational approach to gas control from reacting to predicting.
- Situational awareness is a controller’s ability to perceive the events occuring in a specific environment, comprehend the meaning of the events, understand the context of the activity, determine their future activity, and take the appropriate action according to their training. [Read more about how the EnerSys Intelligent Operator Console accomplishes SA]
- The NERC CIP (North American Electric Reliability Corporation – Critical Infrastructure Protection) is a plan or set of requirements designed to secure the assets required for operating North America’s bulk electricity system.
- Byron Coy is a PHMSA representative who specializes in Control Room Management and the CRM Rule for application in pipeline operations. [Read Byron’s important presentation on Leak Detection]
AGA Operations Conference Gas Control Recap: Full Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to The Pipeliners Podcast, episode 31.
Announcer: The Pipeliners Podcast, where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations. And now, your host, Russel Treat.
Russel: Thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. We appreciate you taking the time. To show that appreciation, we’re giving away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener each episode. First, a shoutout to Emma Bain for taking the cool photographs of her YETI, and sharing it on her LinkedIn page.
Great job, Emma, and we appreciate you advertising through use of your cool YETI. This week, our winner is Mickey Marks with National Inspection Services. To learn how you can win this signature prize pack, stick around to the end of the episode.
This week, we’re going to do something a little different than the standard. I did this, I don’t know, maybe a month and half ago, following the API Pipeline and Cybernetics Conference. I did a recap of the key conversations that I heard that occurred during the conference.
After the episode, I put out a note, and said, “Hey, let me know if you think this kind of thing is valuable,” and got an overwhelming response that why, yes, it is. I think there’s a number of people who operate in the pipeline space that are not necessarily able to get to all the conferences and participate in all the conversations.
This week, we’re going to do a recap of the AGA Operations Conference. Now, the AGA Operations Conference is a really big event. It covers a lot of topics. I spent most of my time sitting in the gas control committee, so most of this recap’s going to be about the gas control committee.
I did sit in on a little bit in one of the measurement presentations, and I’m going to talk about that just briefly. If you listened to last week’s episode, you’re going to hear about that conversation, anyways, from Ardis Bartle.
With that, let’s get started, and let’s talk about the AGA Conference and the conversations that occurred. In the gas control committee on the first day, generally, there’s a lot of industry wide information that’s presented.
One of the things that was discussed was, there was a fair amount of conversation about cybersecurity and its impact on gas control. One of the interesting conversations, there was a comment made that someone had talked to a vendor.
They’d made a comment, “Well, adding the things necessary to monitor switches, routers, and such doesn’t have any impact on gas control.” I know that to be factually incorrect. It might not have impact, but it may.
It depends on what you’re doing with SCADA, how things are being monitored, and so forth. Like with everything else, a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous. Anyway, there was some conversation about that.
There was also some interesting conversation about what’s going on with think NTSB. That’s the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB is responsible for investigating any pipeline incidents.
It has a board of directors, typically five directors, with a chairman. They also investigate other kinds of accidents related to transportation. Rail accidents, aircraft accidents, and so forth. Historically, most of the membership of the board has a background in aviation.
There are currently two positions open. One of the nominees is the first NTSB board nominee that has a background in pipelining. That’s kind of interesting. That’s kind of interest. We’ll have to sit back and see how that develop, and what impacts that might have for us.
One of the questions that was asked to the presenter that was talking about the NTSB is, is there any positive news? The comment came back, and I think this is really interesting. I think this also, a little bit of kudos to the pipeline industry.
I’m always careful or cautious about providing kudos in a safety context, because really, a job well done in that context is what is expected. One of the things that came out of that question is that the NTSB is seeing less and less calls requesting investigation, which would tend to indicate that the number of incidents is decreasing.
If that’s, in fact, the case, that’s a very good thing for the industry. There was also some conversation about what’s going on with with PHMSA and regulatory rulemaking.
Probably what’s most interesting about that is, Skip Elliott, who’s a relatively new administrator for PHMSA, the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, is making some changes, and looking at opportunities to create efficiencies in the agencies.
One of the things they’re talking about doing is bringing together pipeline and materials safety for, in particular, things like welding standards. That’s an interesting development. There’s also some conversation about actively recognizing states that have put programs in place that go beyond the PHMSA requirements.
You could consider the PHMSA requirements the minimum requirements, if you will, for pipeline safety. Certainly, there are some states that are taking action to put in place more advanced requirements or more rigorous requirements for pipeline safety.
One of the other things that’s probably worthy to talk about in this context, if you’re interested, you can Google it. You can bring up Skip Elliott’s testimony before Congress a couple of weeks ago. I actually watched a fair amount of that.
I got to tell you, Mr. Elliott got grilled by Congress, by both parties, about the time it’s taking to implement certain rules. In particular, San Bruno, which was the incident that occurred in California on a gas line explosion, that rule’s been broken into three parts.
The first part of that is a set of congressional mandates, which include the remote shutdown valve requirements. If you think about it, that incident occurred in 2010. It’s now , and the final rule being put in place, we’re looking at 2019. Nine years to implement rules following an incident that resulted in loss of life. You can certainly understand why Congress would be frustrated by the amount of time it’s taking to get those things put in place.
In addition to the congressional mandates, there’s also some specific NTSB recommendations. It’s anticipated those’ll be implemented in 2020 as part of the final rule. Then gathering lines, which there’s going to be a public meeting in D.C. about that with the Pipeline Advisory Council.
That will be in September. Interesting, and certainly, there is pressure to accelerate the work of PHMSA being pushed from Congress. Talked about some of the initiatives in PHMSA, in particular, looking at the auto shutdown valves, and trying to create some appropriate response metrics.
There was a lot of conversation in the gas control committee about that topic. There was also some conversation about workforce development and the AGA task group, looking at the next generation of worker, and what’s going to be required to get them trained.
We talked about training a lot after the API Pipeline conference. One of the things that seems to be thematic is the idea of building competency, versus delivering training. Interestingly, those are not the same thing.
That was some interesting conversation. After getting past the conversation about just the regulatory requirements, the rulemaking, timelines, and so forth, we moved into a conversation about actual implementation of remote shutdown valves and automated shutdown valves in gas utilities in particular.
There was a conversation about real-time versus periodic monitoring. To put a little context around that, you can think about real time, where my communications is talking to a site, maybe as much as many times a minute. Periodic would be I’m looking at it once a day, that type of thing.
There was a lot of conversation about that, in particular around remote shutoff valves. Do you have those in SCADA? Is there alarming? What should the alarming be? Do you do callouts when you have a shutdown?
Then should you be doing any kind of monitoring or predictive analysis around things like maybe sulfur content in gas, odorization, or those types of things, and drive shutdowns based on that, other than just pressure type driving of shutdowns.
I would say that the whole conversation around remote shutdown, automated shutdown, and utilities is really a lot bigger than many people understand. I actually had a sidebar conversation over one of the lunch breaks.
We talked about the reality of how gas utilities and gas distribution systems have been built primary to ensure deliverability. If I have an incident on a line, and that line is feeding a power plant, then I can’t just necessarily cut the gas off without coordinating the impact that’s going to have on the gas.
This conversation is really a big conversation. It goes beyond just, what am I doing in my SCADA systems, my telemetry systems, and my field response systems, actually to the way the pipe is physically put together, and how it’s valved up.
Can I maintain deliverability while doing a shutdown? That starts to make this conversation a lot more complex. Anyways, that was a very interesting conversation. Certainly, I took some important takeaways from that.
The nature of gas utilities in particular, and how those systems work, it’s really quite different than other kinds of pipeline operations. They have some really unique operating requirements. You also have to think about utilities, for the most part, are all in high-consequence areas. It’s an interesting conversation.
That led into a conversation that was given by Alfred Musgrove about implementation of automatic shutdown and remote control valves at PG&E. Really, again, I think the part of that conversation or that presentation that was interesting is some of the analysis they had to do, and what it meant when they started looking at, well how are we going to…
If we have an incident here, how do we isolate it? What are the impacts? That ends up becoming a big conversation. There’s a lot of analysis that needs to go into that. Ultimately, a big part of this conversation is moving from an idea that I’m going to monitor and respond to I’m going to predict and act.
Really, I think that’s the future of gas control. That is a major transformation. I don’t know, really, of any company that’s fully there. Certainly, some are further down that line. PG&E is certainly somebody who’s advancing the state of the art in that discipline.
The other thing we talked about is the need around all of this to just continuing to improve the culture around safety and safety excellence. Really, creating a culture of confidence around I, as a controller, have confidence that if I need to, I can shut things down.
If I need to, I can make things safe. That ultimately, I’m the person with the authority to make those decisions. There was a lot of conversation in the room about, what does it take to actually create that culture?
Of course, like everything else, that’s a whole lot more difficult than what you think might think. One of the key comments that was made in the presentation was, you really need to put a face on the authority to shut down.
What I mean by that, and what Alfred said to that point was, you need executive management to come in and say to the controller, “Yes, you have this authority. We are standing behind you. We support you. You have the authority.” Now, that’s a big deal, because it changes culture. It can have a big impact in what happens when an incident actually does occur.
I actually asked the question in the room in general terms, is there any kind of countdown timers when you have issues and such? In general, what I found is, there is. It’s very common to have something like a 15-minute countdown timer, that if I think I have an incident, I’ve got 15 minutes to determine I don’t, or I shut things down. One of the things interesting, and this is probably more true in utilities, is that, how do I confirm an incident?
A lot of times, I can turn on the news, or I can call 911, and they’re going to have information before I have it in the control room. When you think about that, that makes ultimate sense. Video is so prolific, and social media and such is so prolific.
Anybody that sees anything, they know to dial 911. If there’s any kind of issue, 911’s probably going to know first. That is certainly a way to confirm you have an issue. Not only could I call 911, I could monitor TV channels. I can monitor Twitter. I can monitor social media feeds.
If I do that well, I can have ways to confirm an incident that are beyond things I can do in the SCADA and automation system. This, of course, led to some conversation about training. Of course, team training is a big issue.
We’ve talked about that on several episodes of the podcast. In this particular case, a lot of people were talking about, how are they doing team training? What’s it actually looking like in the control room? That led into a conversation about, what do I want to train?
Certainly, there’s leak training scenarios. Leak alarm response, that kind of training. What does that look like? There is training in how do I maintain situational awareness? There’s a nuts and bolts training around the whole company specific implementation of remote control and automated shutdown valves.
How do I make the decision? How do I prioritize shutdown? How do I direct? In all of this, there’s communication issues. Communication issues are big. How do I resolve conflict and build trust that goes specifically to communication issues.
If I’m managing an incident, and I’m directing people to do things they may not want to do, how do I do that? Then how do I collaborate, and how do I do the notification? You’re teaching people how to analyze, how to collaborate, how to communicate, how to execute, and how to keep everybody informed. It’s a big deal. It’s a big deal.
There was also some conversation — there was a good presentation by Circadian on fatigue risk management, and what’s going on there. That led into a conversation about hours of service.
There was a conversation in the room about audits, and what people are experiencing. There was one thing that came up that was really interesting to me. It was outside of anything I’d heard before, where some of the operators stated — and this was more than one — that the inspector said, “You don’t log something as a deviation unless it’s safety-related.”
I don’t know that I’m saying this correctly, because I really didn’t understand. Of course, we didn’t talk about specifics, but there was a lot of conversation about, well, if I have an hour as a service deviation, when does that pipeline safety related, and what am I doing about that?
That’s actually different than how I understood the intent when I was attending meetings was PHMSA was originally rolling the rule out back in 2012. I think I’ve got a little bit of research to do for myself. That was one of my homework assignments, is to take that away, and try to talk about it, and understand it.
There was also conversation about cybersecurity. There was a lot of conversation about NERC CIP. Because a lot of the gas utilities are also electric utilities, and because electric utilities fall under NERC CIP, on the surface of it, it makes sense that if I’ve got a gas utility and an electric utility, they exist in the same entity, and I’m already doing NERC CIP on the electric side, why shouldn’t I just do that on the gas side as well?
One, gas operations and electric operations are different. Two, do I necessarily want the audit requirements if I’m going to be under NERC CIP? It’s one thing to follow the practice. It’s another thing to carry the burden of the audit requirement.
Certainly, the point was made in the conversation that we really don’t want as gas utilities to fall under NERC CIP audits. Again, interesting conversation, and probably an area that there’ll be a lot more conversation about.
Obviously, cybersecurity is a big deal in any kind of critical infrastructure. Certainly, gas utilities are critical infrastructure. There’ll certainly be more to be learned there. There was also a segment, a presentation, by Byron Coy, Byron Coy being a PHMSA person, and one of the guys who’s a subject matter expert in control room management.
Probably the most interesting part of that conversation, beyond just a bunch of the updates and the details of some of the changes that have occurred related to team training is the concept of supervise versus supersede.
Again, as with a lot of the information that I’ve seen Byron present, his information is always just right on point and very good. The point he was making is, in looking at your roles and responsibilities, and looking at your team training requirements, you need to be very clear about supervising authority versus superseding authority.
Now, I’m going to do my best to try and state what Byron stated. I don’t know how good a job I’ll do of that. What he was making the distinction is, to supervise is to establish objectives and tasks, but I leave the details to the person who’s going to execute the task, i.e., the gas controller.
To supersede is to interject in the control logic and dictate the technical details of implementing the task or completing the task. The other thing he made clear is that in your control room management plan, if no one has the authority to supersede a controller, that needs to be stated in the control room management plan.
Certainly, if you haven’t made that kind of change in your control room management plan, that’s something that you’re going to want to look at making sure you get done. After the presentations, there were also some workshop breakouts.
The workshop breakout I participated in was the lessons learned breakout. A couple of key takeaways I took from that, first off, I’ll state the obvious. One of the things that’s challenging is capturing lessons learned
We tend to think about lessons learned as, “I had an incident, a near miss. I’m going to unpack that, and I’m going to use that for training in the future.” The reality is, we just don’t have that many of those kind of things happen in pipeline operations.
It can be real challenging to get a very meaningful library of lessons learned. A couple of things that were discussed. One was the idea of, what would it take for the industry to collaborate on collecting lessons learned?
Rather than just being able to collect them out of my own operation, I could get them out of other operations. Now, there’s certainly some complexities about that, because you’d need to make the lessons learned generic, and not necessarily attribute them to any particular operator.
Certainly, there was interest in that. I don’t know what it would take to actually make that occur. The other thing, and I thought this was probably the most valuable takeaway, is you need to look for lessons learned that are people doing things right.
There’s probably a lot more opportunity for that than lessons learned around incidents or near misses. My experience in control centers is there’s a very high degree of training and competency in the people that are working in those centers.
They certainly take their jobs very seriously. They understand the impact of what they’re doing, and the consequences if it’s not done well. The idea of looking for, here’s a policy or procedure, or a situation that occurred, and somebody did something extra, or something more. It had a positive impact, and here’s why.
Mining for and looking for lessons learned from things that are working right. I think that’s a really great takeaway, and probably something all of us need to be doing more of. There was also some discussion about an NTSB report related to a pipeline incident in Millersville, Pennsylvania.
There were four recommendations coming out of that report. Two to PHMSA, that will probably drive some rulemaking activity, but two went directly to Honeywell, a vendor whose equipment was involved in the incident.
I think it’s interesting. I think that’s the first time I’m aware that NTSB actually issues a specific recommendation to a vendor. I think that’s an interesting development, and something that we need to be looking at.
One final thing. In addition to going to the gas control committee, and sitting in on all that, I did have the opportunity to go to one presentation in the measurement committee. This was the presentation by Ardis Bartle about the white paper that she put together, and in fact, the last episode of The Pipeliners Podcast, we talked about, training, and what the Navy’s learning in their training.
I thought that was really interesting. Certainly, we’ve talked about it a lot. One of the key things, after sitting in on Ardis’ presentation, was I think that that has application much more broadly than just measurement. I talked to her and I’m going to try to see if we can get that presentation shared in some other verticals within our pipelining space, other than just the measurement aspect.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of The Pipeliners Podcast, my recap of the AGA Operations Conference, and in particular, the gas control committee.
Just a reminder before you go. You should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit pipelinerspodcast.com/win to enter yourself in the drawing.
Russel: If you have ideas, questions, or topics you would be interested in, please let us know, either at 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.
Transcription by CastingWords