Pipeliners Podcast


The Pipeliners Podcast welcomes Stuart Saulters to discuss the important elements of a pipeline safety management system (SMS).

In this episode, you will learn about the industry’s shift to SMS following the pipeline incidents in 2010, how the API RP 1173 was created, the importance of changing the culture in pipeline operations to get the most benefit from API 1173, and how to close gaps in your operation.

Introduction to Pipeline SMS: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms

  • Stuart Saulters is the Director of Government Affairs for American Public Gas Association (APGA). At the time of this episode, Stuart was a midstream policy advisor for API, focusing on pipeline safety. Find and connect with Stuart on LinkedIn.
  • PipelineSMS.org is a safety tool that was developed by pipeline operators to help other operators enhance safety in their operation. Read the website resources or email pipelinesms@api.org with inquiries.
  • API (American Petroleum Institute) is a national trade association that represents the interests of the oil & gas industry. API promotes safety across the industry and influences public policy in support of a strong, viable U.S. oil and natural gas industry.
  • API 1173 established the framework for operators to implement Pipeline Safety Management Systems (SMS). A significant part of this recommended practice is a training and competency aspect.
  • 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.]
  • 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 Macondo well is a large reservoir of natural resources in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana. The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig was set up for deepwater exploration before exploding in April 2010.
  • PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) is a management method to enhance control and build continuous improvement into processes.
    • Six Sigma is a tool to measure an entity’s execution and commitment to continuous improvement.
  • ASME is an international developer of codes and standards that support the practice of mechanical engineering.
  • Ron McClain is the retired former president of Kinder Morgan Liquids Pipeline and was instrumental in developing API 1173. [Watch this Video] [Watch this Webinar]

Introduction to Pipeline SMS: Full Episode Transcript

Russel Treat:  Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 48.

[background music]

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. To show that appreciation, we are giving away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener each episode. This week, our winner is Valerie Brodie with Plains All American Pipeline. Congratulations, Valerie.

To learn how you can win this signature prize pack, stick around ‘til the end of the episode. This week, we have Stuart Saulters, Midstream Policy Advisor at the American Petroleum Institute, joining us to talk about pipeline safety management systems. Stuart, welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast.

Stuart Saulters:  How’s it going, Russel?

Russel:  It’s doing very well. I’m very glad to be here. The listeners won’t know this, but we have been struggling with technical difficulties for a bit. I’m glad we’re past that and we’ve got you on board.

Stuart:  [laughs] That’s right, happy to be here, happy to have the conversation.

Russel:  If you would, Stuart, tell the listeners a little bit about who you are and how you got into pipelining and ended up with the API.

Stuart:  Happy to do that, Russel. My name’s Stuart Saulters, Policy Advisor with API. I’ve been part of the oil and gas industry for about 10 years. I guess at this point you can say I’ve been involved in each segment, upstream, downstream, and midstream.

I worked for Chevron for about six years at a refinery and then did some production facility engineering at some production sites. Now I have been at API for about four years doing pipeline policy work.

Russel:  I asked you specifically to come on, Stuart, to talk about pipeline SMS. Maybe we should just start with this question. What is pipeline SMS?

Stuart:  That’s a good question. RP I’ve been working for API and with our API members, ever since pipeline SMS, since 1173, which is the API recommended practice on pipeline safety management systems, was issued.

That was issued in 2015. Basically, it gives the 10 elements that that group that wrote the document believe are a part or should be a part of a company or a pipeline operator’s pipeline safety management systems.

It’s kind of one of those buzzwords. It’s safety management systems, SMS. You’ll hear it rolling around in a lot of different contexts. There’s a lot of different industries that use it. It’s essentially the way you as an organization manage your business.

Essentially, to me, I think that’s what the group was trying to get at that wrote the document. It’s really about culture. How do you as an organization drive the right culture that you believe you should have to be safe? Hopefully, that’s a nutshell version of it. Hopefully, that’s clear enough there.

Russel:  Yeah, sure. How did the industry come around to creating a recommended practice for pipeline safety management?

Stuart:  Good question. In 2010, there were a couple of incidents, some pretty significant pipeline incidents. Also in 2010, we had Macondo, the release offshore. Really, the two pipeline incidents, one occurred in Marshall, Michigan and another one in the Bay Area, outside of San Francisco.

Russel:  San Bruno.

Stuart:  Those two incidents, one liquids transmission and one gas transmission, really drove the regulator to say, “Hey, something’s got to change.” I think the operators would totally agree that something really needed to change.

The group of people got together, stakeholders from pipeline operators, from the regulatory community, from the public, all got together and said, “What’s the document, what’s the guidance we need to offer our peers and colleagues that really help them understand what institutes or what right goes into a pipeline safety management system to drive the culture change that you need, to continue that improvement and hopefully achieve a zero incident type organization and workplace.”

Russel:  Stuart, I think you make a couple of really good points. I’ve talked a lot about San Bruno and Marshall both in other episodes of the podcast. 2010, to me it’s kind of an interesting year. It’s the same year that the control room management rule was published.

It was also a year where we had really an unprecedented level of pipeline incidents. We’d been on a fairly good trend for a while. Then we had a number of significant incidents. The other thing you mentioned the Macondo well on the Gulf of Mexico, which was a drilling rig disaster, which had nothing to do with pipelining.

One of the things that I think we fail to think about sometimes as pipeliners is that the public doesn’t look at pipelining versus refining versus production. They just see energy. They lump it all together. They don’t really care.

Stuart: Yes, exactly.

Russel:  What does SMS entail? I mean what’s involved in putting together a pipeline safety management system program?

Stuart:  That is a good question. I like to boil it down into really, you call it continuous improvement. If you flip open the first page of 1173, you’ll see a diagram. It has the titles, Plan Do Check Act, or PDCA, if you want to use acronym. Essentially, that’s what it boils down to me.

I think that’s what operators would agree. It’s really that, as an organization, you set out with a plan. You work with the right groups, work with the right SMEs, work with the right management in some situations. You say, “All right. What’s our plan for this year, for this time period, whatever it may be?” Then you execute that plan. You do.

Then, after that time period passes, you check and see. How did we do? Obviously with the check step, that means you have to have metrics. A big part of an SMS is, as an organization, you agree on a certain level of metrics. Then you make sure you meet those. If you met them, then, absolutely, that’s awesome.

If you didn’t meet them, what can you do to improve, get better, and meet them the next go round? If you surpass them, then maybe there’s an opportunity to improve some efficiencies somewhere, so that you get kind of that metric target you’re trying to hit. Obviously those three steps are what entails that act part, the adjust part that you have to do.

Russel:  Yeah, it’s very interesting. For people who work in safety management, that’s a pretty standard kind of process. It’s also kind of a Six Sigma, black belt kind of process. The science of that is pretty well understood. This is the first time.

This is a relatively recent development in pipelining that a number of operators came together and said, “Okay, let’s come up with a way that we can work together to do this better as an industry.” To me, I think that’s a great thing. The other thing I think is very interesting about 1173 is it’s not a requirement. Yet a number of the large operators are embracing it, really promoting it, and pushing it.

Stuart:  Absolutely. Real quick just on that last point, I don’t want to say that no one was doing SMS within the pipeline industry. I definitely think there were people that were. There were also operators that had certain elements of what’s in 1173 instituted in their organizations.

I think just for one reason or another, the documentation, the actual purposeful steps that people were taking, weren’t necessarily being sought after or spent a lot of time on. I think that’s where 1173…like you just alluded to, this operator kind of owned their own proactive nature took it on to say, “All right. We need to do something.”

I think that’s really where the proactive steps that these operators have taken to truly implement 1173 has caused it all to come to a fruition here.

Russel:  Yeah. I would agree with that, Stuart. I agree with you. I think a number of the operators, and for that matter most operators, were doing something. They had some kind of safety program in place. What I find encouraging about 1173 — and the industry movement around that — is the collaborative issue around that.

One of the things I think is very true in our business is we do better, as an industry, when we collaborate. One of the things I think API does, and does well, is create a mechanism or a way for the industry to collaborate, and do that in a way like a rising tide lifts all boats.

It’s really interesting to me that this is occurring. I’m a novice on this whole pipeline SMS stuff. One of the questions I have is…you mentioned it’s a cultural thing. Organizationally, what’s required to get this culture moving?

Stuart:  That is a very good question. You mentioned the PDCA, that’s a huge part of SMS. Another huge part is the management commitment. That is something that, page one or right after the table contents in 1173, it emphasizes that leadership has to be engaged.

There has to be a commitment from your senior management — or senior leadership is the term in the document — to say, “Hey, we commit to this, and we’re going to put resources on this.”

That’s the only way it’s successful, is if you have a leadership that’s bought in, or that truly believes this is the way to get that culture change to where folks out in the field, folks in the office, everyone has safety on the brain.

They know that what they do as an employee of the organization will impact safety in the activities that are executed. It’s pretty easy to say, “What makes us successful?” It’s all in the leadership and their level of commitment.

Russel:  In the API Pipeline Conference earlier this year, there were several sessions on SMS. I tried to get to those. One of the things about that that was really compelling to me is the documentation.

What I’m talking about here is policy procedures and the details of how you do things, and then that and how it relates to competencies, competencies being people and their capability to do things, creating the outcome without an incident.

That sounds really simple to say, but that is a big deal. When you think about all the different things that a pipeline operator has to do, and all the competencies that are required to be an effective pipeline operator, that is a large scope of understanding.

Stuart:  In this day and age when data is data integration, and AI, and all those buzzwords that you have, it can just compound the complexity that an operator has to face. Like you said, it’s apparent.

Folks have realized that if we can execute this right, if we can capture the right data, find the right metrics, as an organization have the right conversations and the right meetings, then we could really help ensure that our SMS is successful, and that we’re matching at the right pace.

Russel:  My experience is probably 80 percent small operators, 20 percent large operators. One of the things I see is the large operators tend to build their own internal capabilities around subject matter expertise. That’s difficult for the smaller operators to do.

Have you had any exposure or any conversation with smaller operators trying to embrace SMS? I’m curious if that’s what you’re seeing there, if anything.

Stuart: We reached out to the trade associations that have gas distribution, including the smaller distribution operators, the municipalities that maybe have three, or four, or five services, just to be sure that there is a big tent as we approach this. You’re spot on, that people can approach it differently.

Like I said, we’ve engaged those people. They’re part of our implementation team. We’ve created some tools and resources that regardless of the size of your company, we feel like they’re pretty valuable for you, at least a start. Pipelinesms.org is our website that has that material on there. There’s what we call a gap analysis. It’s a couple of tools, but essentially it’s a gap analysis.

That’s an opportunity, an easy first step for any size company to take on and to go through as an organization and say, “All right. At least we can figure out where we’re starting from, and then figure out what we want to do from there.” Does that mean hire external resources? Does that mean we get internal resources that we can dedicate to this or that for a time period?

At least we feel like that gap analysis is a good first step for a lot of companies, when it comes to at least learning where you stand as an organization.

Russel:  That’s a great tip, Stuart, because that’s where I was going next in my questions. I was going to ask, how is API supporting industry? Tell me the website name again.

Stuart:  It is pipelinesms.org.

Russel:  We’ll definitely put that in the show notes and link that up. Anybody who’s listening has interest in this, can go there and learn more. It’s, I don’t want to say unique or unusual, but to me, the level or approach, I guess maybe it’s a better way to say it, that API is taking around SMS, it’s a little unprecedented. Would you agree with that?

Stuart:  Yes. I would, for sure.

Russel:  Why would you say that? What’s driving API to undertake putting up a website, and building tools that industry can use to implement SMS?

Stuart:  You mentioned it earlier, it’s not required, and a lot of what I do as a policy adviser is advocacy, and especially with the regulatory community. We’ve had good conversations with the regulators.

I think, like I said, the management system RPs are a little more critical. We really want to help industry understand those, implement those. Also, too, we want to show our stakeholder community that there’s some good guidance out there in these API RPs and to a certain extent ASME RPs, all the industry standards.

There’s good stuff. Let’s put it into practice. Let’s show stakeholders that we’re willing to put this into practice and to a certain extent create a management system for RP execution [laughs], tracking it, seeing how successful it is and that type of thing.

Russel:  I think there’s one other thing that warrants conversation around this. That’s this idea of what is safety.

I think one of the challenges with pipeline safety management is understanding where are the general industry broad best practices about safety management systems, and how do you adapt those and apply them appropriately to pipelining.

To me, that’s the real strength of this entire program. You could make the argument that there is a ton of valuable, good safety programs and approaches and such that are available from other industries.

Even so, there are certain things about pipelining that make it unique. To build an overall industry capability around understanding safety practice and its application to pipelining, that’s nothing but a good thing.

Stuart:  It’s been exciting to be a part of API and to help do that. I think as a trade association, we have to worry about anti-trust and not crossing any boundaries with that. When it comes to safety, I think everybody understands. They understand what we can and can’t talk about when it comes to regulation or competitors or goods and services, vendors, that type of thing.

Safety is something that a lot of people check their corporate policies, or whatever you want to call them, at the door to say, “All right. We’ve got to get better as an industry.” Like you said towards the beginning, we are looked at by the public as one entity. [laughs]

A pipeline’s a pipeline when it comes to people seeing it on TV. The more we can collaborate and get better and drive that culture change that drives a safe operating practices and safe culture, the better we’ll all be.

Russel:  I absolutely agree. One of the things that I advocate…This was talked about, again, at the API Pipeline Conference. They talked about triple zero being the goal.

No incidents, no releases, no injuries. Triple zero. We’re all human beings. You probably realize that, man, that’s probably, in the overall scheme of things, that’s unattainable. Even so, can I do that for a minute? Can I do it for an hour? Can I do it for a day, a week, a month, and so on? It’s the only goal that makes sense. That has to be the goal.

Getting the industry to work together to accomplish that not just as an operator, but as an industry, that’s a big dang deal. It’s the right thing to do.

Stuart:  No doubt. It’s aspirational, but if you don’t have that as your goal, then you have to do a gut check to be like, “Why am I operating a pipeline?”

Russel:  If you were a football team in the pros, what’s your goal every year? Your goal every year is to win the Super Bowl. If that’s not your goal, then [laughs] why are you doing anything, right? It’s kind of the same thing. You’re not going to get there every year, but it has to be the goal.

I want to shift the conversation a little bit, Stuart. If you were going to advise an operator about how to get started with safety management, what would you give them as “Here’s the first couple three steps you need to do?”

Stuart:  Good question. I go back to what Ron McClain, who was the President of Kinder Morgan Liquids Pipeline at the document development of 1173, led that whole process. The first words out of his mouth when it came to implementation were “Read the document.”

I would echo what Ron said and ask you to read the document. I think it’s a short document. I think that’s intentional because it’s not going to scare anybody away. It’s not intended to scare people away.

It’s only 30 pages or so. I wouldn’t say it’s an easy read, but it’s a short read. I encourage you to spend a little bit of time on it. Don’t speed-read through it. Read the document first.

The second thing would say, would go to pipelinesms.org. Encourage folks to not only read the document, but go to that website. I’m not going to take the credit, because it’s a lot of operator input that went into that site. API may host it. We may have the URL, but it’s really a lot of operator input, a lot of operator work in the documents on that page.

I’ve said operator a lot, but if you’re a contractor, you’re a consultant, or a vendor, you play a role in your company that you work for, in their SMS. I encourage you to go to that site as well and check it out and just better understand. If nothing else, be able to talk the talk, so to speak.

That third thing I would say is if you go to the pipelinesms.org, a big emphasis we’ve focused on here lately is the maturity model, so understanding what it means to have a mature pipeline SMS. You’re not going to be mature, obviously, if you’re just starting out.

Even if you’ve been doing this for a long time, you may have a lot of gaps to close, a lot of things to work on, but at least you understand what we just talked about, what the goal is, as you try to execute this pipeline SMS.

That would be my three things, is read the document, check out the information on pipelinesms.org, and really start understanding that maturity model and try to build your organization or work within your organization to take the next steps to get to a mature and effective pipeline SMS.

Russel:  You just did my typical episode ending, which is what are the three key takeaways.

Stuart:  [laughs]

Russel:  I think you just did exactly that. That’s awesome. Read the standard, go to the website and familiarize yourself, and figure out where you are now. That sounds awesome. Thanks for stealing my thunder, Stuart. That’s awesome. [laughs]

Stuart:  It’s the least I could do for all the technical difficulties I put you through.

Russel:  [laughs] No, it’s all good. I appreciate this, Stuart. This was awesome. Definitely want to have you back on some future episodes, talk about some other subjects.

We’ll take all these key buzzwords and resources. We’ll get them all linked up in the show notes. If somebody had questions about pipeline SMS and they wanted to reach out to you, what’s the best way to get in contact?

Stuart:  I am happy to answer any questions. I can give you my email. We can link it in the show notes. I would also encourage folks, just as simple as pipelinesms.org. We have a general email inbox, pipelinesms@api.org.

It’s not one of those inboxes that is never monitored. Send an email. It doesn’t get answered until two years later. We try to do a good job monitoring it and making sure folks’ questions are answered. Encourage folks to email pipelinesms@api.org if you have any general questions or want to learn more.

Russel:  That’s awesome, Stuart. Thank you so much for being a guest. We look forward to having you back soon.

Stuart:  All right. Thanks for having me.

Russel:  I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Stuart Saulters. I certainly am learning about safety management in the pipeline world. I got to say this is a subject I think is going to warrant more conversation, because, certainly, I feel like I’ve got a lot to learn here.

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

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Russel:  If you have ideas, questions, or topics that 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. Thanks again for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.

Transcription by CastingWords

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