Pipeliners Podcast


The Pipeliners Podcast is continuing a series on pipeline safety management systems (SMS) by welcoming David Murk of API for the first time.

Russel Treat and David discuss the formation of RP 1173 that set the standard for pipeline SMS systems, how the RP is scalable and flexible to meet the needs of pipeline operators and midstream companies, the current phase of implementation, and relevant tools to help operators and companies achieve full implementation.

Pipeline SMS: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms

  • David Murk is the manager of Pipelines, Midstream, and Industry Operations for API. Find and connect with David on LinkedIn.
  • API (American Petroleum Institute) is the only national trade association representing all facets of the oil and natural gas industry, which supports 10.3 million U.S. jobs and nearly 8 percent of the U.S. economy. API’s more than 625 members include large integrated companies, as well as exploration and production, refining, marketing, pipeline, and marine businesses, and service and supply firms. They provide most of the nation’s energy and are backed by a growing grassroots movement of more than 40 million Americans.
  • PipelineSMS.org is a useful resource with various safety tools 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.
  • PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) ensures the safe transportation of energy and hazardous materials.
    • 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.
  • 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]
  • PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) is a management method to enhance control and build continuous improvement into processes.
  • IPC 2018 (the International Pipeline Conference) took place September 24-28 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The not-for-profit conference and proceeds support educational initiatives and research in the pipeline industry.

Pipeline SMS: Full Episode Transcript

Russel Treat:  Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, Episode 52.

[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. 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 James Boudreau, with REXA Valves and Actuators. Congratulations, James. 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, we’re very fortunate to have with us David Murk of the API who has been involved in Pipeline SMS pretty much since inception.

With that, let’s welcome David Murk to talk to us about Pipeline Safety Management Systems. David, welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast.

David Murk:  Russel, I appreciate the opportunity.

Russel:  I asked you on to talk about Pipeline SMS, and it’s been a thematic subject. We’ve done several episodes recently on this topic. Maybe a good place to start is tell us what you do at the API, and how you got involved with Pipeline SMS?

David:  Sure. My background, real quick, I’ve been with API, this April, it’ll be three years. I’m the pipeline manager, and that is in what we refer to as our midstream segment. The American Petroleum Institute represents the entire oil and gas industry and that includes our upstream exploration and production, the midstream, which is the space I’m in — which is the transportation and movement of those energy products. Then, our downstream group is the refining retail component.

Again, I’ve been with API three years, work within midstream, and as a pipeline manager, I’m responsible for pipeline safety standards. That’s really the bread and butter for the American Petroleum Institute. In fact, we’re coming up on almost 100 years of really doing that for the industry.

I do oversee the standards program, and advocate on behalf of the pipeline industry.

Russel:  What were you doing before you joined the API, David?

David:  Prior to joining API, I worked for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) at the USDOT. I was the Director of Field Operations in the Office of Pipeline Safety, and I did that for two years.

Prior to that, I had a long career in the Coast Guard. I did 24 years of active duty service in what the Coast Guard refers to as their Marine Safety and Security Program.

Russel:  We didn’t talk about that at all before we got on the mic, so I want to ask the question. How did being in the Coast Guard prepare you to be in pipeline safety management?

David:  That’s a great question. In the Coast Guard, I was in what they refer to as the Marine Safety and Security Program. In that program, the Coast Guard — in ports all over the United States — we’re responsible for federal responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and marine terminals along the body of water.

From a pipeline standpoint, Coast Guard’s responsible for those lines from the dock, offloading to the first valve of the tank. All that pipeline infrastructure, marine facilities, that’s under Coast Guard responsibility. A little different than what PHMSA does — roles and responsibilities. I got involved there, and then my last three years in the Coast Guard, I worked for the Secretary of Transportation as a maritime advisor, and got more involved in pipelines just from that more senior level within USDOT.

Russel:  How did you get involved, or how did the API get involved in this pipeline safety management effort?

David:  Not to go down the rabbit hole again, but my Coast Guard career, on the marine side, we actually implemented safety management systems in the late ’90s, early 2000s, and it was both domestically and internationally.

There’s a lot of other industries that, on the nuclear side, marine side, and other industries that already actually are well along with safety management systems. In the pipeline world, there were a couple of major incidents that happened in 2010 time frame: the San Bruno incident out in California, as well as the spill at Marshall, Michigan.

Based on that, the National Transportation Safety Board, in 2012, put out a recommendation to the American Petroleum Institute in particular to develop a standard recommended practice around safety management systems. That was really the impetus behind it.

It took about two years to develop, published in 2015, which was a year before I joined API. Working for PHMSA at the time, I was well aware of safety management system and the fact that Recommended Practice 1173 was out there. It was really going to be pushed heavily by both PHMSA and the industry as what we think is a game-changer for our industry.

That’s really how we got started. Again, the RP created, published, and now, we’re heavily into the implementation and evaluation phase of SMS.

Russel:  If you were talking to a senior executive at a pipeline and they were asking you, “What’s the value? Why should I do pipeline SMS?” What answer would you give them?

David:  I think probably the biggest thing in our industry — in all the processes that are involved with pipeline facilities, monitoring operations and maintenance, everything in the entire life cycle of the pipeline from construction to the time of decommissioning at some point down the road — there’s a lot of complex processes involved in that, in managing pipeline facilities.

We like to say it’s about taking a complex system and bringing it and simplifying it by making the connections across the various programs within the organization, and from that, really gaining efficiencies within an organization. We think it helps improve decision-making. It helps with risk management and performance improvement in general, because ultimately, it comes to — if you’re improving processes, bringing efficiencies — it’s ultimately going to improve performance.

It’s also going to drive safety culture within an organization, and that’s ultimately what we want with SMS.

Russel:  That brings up a great next question, and that is, how would you define safety culture?

David:  There’s a lot of definitions behind that, but if I were to give you that definition, it would probably be…it’s not really a definition…it’s more of this: if I were to walk out and talk to any person within an organization, and I got the feeling that if there were a problem, there was no hesitation from that individual to bring that to leadership within the organization. If you walk around an organization, I think you can get a feel fairly quickly of the safety culture just by discussions with your practitioner, boot-on-the-ground type of person, to your mid-manager.

Russel:  Yeah, safety culture is one of those things that’s hard to define, but when you walk into a operator’s facility, you know whether or not it exists.

David:  Right. I completely agree.

Russel:  I don’t know how to explain it, but I know what it looks like and feels like when I see it. It’s simple things like, you drive on to the site, and is it clean? Are things well marked? Then you walk into the building and you open up a closet, and is the closet organized? It’s simple, little stuff like that that is a big indication of whether the culture actually exists.

David:  I completely agree. It’s a foundation for safety management systems, because if you don’t have a good safety culture, a big part of safety management systems is an organization’s ability to continuously improve and look for those “gotcha!” type of things that can cause an incident.

It’s getting that mindset of your employees and the folks within your organization to really be looking for those root causes, or be looking for that next thing that can cause an incident. Again, that’s in that continuous improvement approach.

If you don’t have that safety culture foundation within that organization, the reluctance to bring those types of issues up is just not going to happen. The two really go hand-in-hand, and the safety culture aspect of it really is a foundation of safety management systems.

Russel:  I absolutely agree. When I listen to a conversation like this, and we’re using the word safety — safety and operations effectiveness — they’re not exactly the same thing, but they’re close. They’re first cousins. They’re almost just different ways of looking at the same problem.

David:  You’re absolutely right. Ultimately, we think, by improving safety, you’re going to improve efficiency. You’re going to have more balance with the operational aspects of your organization. Safety’s the number one priority, and it also makes your company a little more cost competitive.

It improves overall employee morale, I think, when you’re recognizing employees for doing the right thing.

Russel:  Process safety management as a science has been around for a while, pipeline safety management is kind of new, and I guess you’ve been involved almost since inception. How has the industry worked to actually define this standard?

I think the other thing I want to unpack a little bit with you, David, is SMS is a little different than some other API recommended practices, in terms of the level of support materials that have been created to support the operators to implement.

David:  You’re right. When we published 1173, and as I mentioned earlier, we really truly saw this. I think our regulator, PHMSA and the NTSB, saw this as that transformational program that will drive the industry toward the zero incidents, which is our goal.

We like to tout our 99.997 percent safety record for gas and liquid pipelines, but if you talk to Skip Elliott, who’s the administrator right now, he’s asking, “What are you doing with that .003? It’s great, and you should be proud of that record, but what are you doing with that?”

There’s a recognition that safety management systems and RP 1173 is that game-changer. For the industry, it’s really been a concerted effort over the last three years to really aggressively move forward with implementation, and really now, we’ve done that.

We’ve put the tools in the hands of our operators to help them through implementation, and we’re now really looking at the effectiveness aspect. How is what you’re doing, putting these programs in place, is it improving the safety culture? Is it improving the safety performance, and ultimately, is it improving operations?

Based on the fact that we saw it as a foundational type of program and recommended practice, that’s why we decided to really move forward with this strong implementation program. To be frank, I think this was the first recommended practice where we really took this approach in a more systematic way, to help operators through it.

We’re now looking at doing that with some of our other RPs that we think are important within integrity management, emergency response, and some others. This was really the first, as you indicated, first time that we really did a full program of implementation.

Russel:  I’ve met a couple of the people that participated — or have participated — on the industry team that helped put this together and drive it, if you will. I think the seniority of the participation is also a bit unique in terms of who the participants were, and what their roles were in the companies they were coming from.

David:  You’re absolutely right. Probably one of the biggest elements of the 10 elements within safety management systems is leadership and management commitment. As we talked about earlier, if you don’t have that leadership commitment and drive to promote and push safety management systems within your organization, as well as the safety culture, then it’s going to fail.

You must have that commitment, because the commitment at the senior level — everybody within the organization down is looking for that commitment — if it’s not there or the program itself is downplayed, the program’s not going to succeed. They’re really looking for that leadership.

Russel:  It’s 2018. We’re about three years in. Where is the industry in terms of adopting and implementing this thing?

David:  We’ve taken a three-phased approach over the last three years, since implementation. We focused early on — and it goes back to our point on leadership and management commitment — we focused early on on the commitment aspects of the program and really driving leadership. In particular on the liquid side initially, to commit to the RP itself, but safety management systems within organizations is not necessarily a new concept. A lot of pipeline operators already had or have a safety management system, and had a system in place before RP 1173.

It was really a matter of committing to the concept. If they’re already doing it, it seems like a no-brainer that that commitment would be there. At this point, we have about 96 percent of the barrel miles covered through the commitment of our pipeline operators.

Phase two was really focused on putting the tools and the resources in the hands of our operators. That was through a variety of means. We created a series of booklets on the what, why, and how of pipeline safety management systems. We had a series of workshops and training sessions — both webinar and in-person — where we were walking through various elements of the safety management system, etc.

That was really the big push in that middle 2016-2017 period — creating tools that they could use to do gap analysis, do comparisons of their program to the elements of 1173, doing an evaluation — an assessment — of their implementation of 1173, and then really, now, we’re in that effectiveness.

We are evaluating the effectiveness of the programs, and that’s really our phase three, what we call demonstrating progress. That’s where we are now. We’ve come a long way.

We’re working close with the gas industry, on both the distribution and transmission sides. We’re taking a “one industry, one goal” approach now with pipeline safety management systems, and really trying to drive the industry forward.

Russel:  I’ve spent a little time on the pipeline SMS site, and it’s really kind of chock full of resources. One of the things that’s interesting to me is the commitment letter. I went to the get started page and reviewed that. Then I ended up landing on this commitment letter, and I’m curious how that played into how you kicked all this off.

David:  Going back to the 2015, that really was our first step in the implementation process. Again, that was focused on getting that leadership management commitment and buy-in up front.

We felt like we could do that. If we got the commitment from our operators through that, that demonstrates not only within our industry, but demonstrates through our regulators that, hey, these guys are focused in and committing to it.

That particular letter and program was focused on the liquid side early on. Some of the other gas segments of our industry, on the pipeline side are also implementing similar types of programs, not necessarily the same as what we did.

Again, that was our effort upfront, to really drive and get our industry to a point that we felt like, “Okay, we’ve got the majority of our operators committed. Let’s move into the next phase and really start aggressively implementing.”

Russel:  We, at our companies, tend to work more with the smaller pipeline operators, midstream guys, sometimes producers that have midstream operations, those for whom, either because of their size, have limited resources, or because of the nature of the business, pipeline is not core to their business.

When you start talking about this kind of program, I think that the challenge is a little different for those smaller guys. I’m wondering what kind of tools and approaches, how do you get started with all this stuff?

David:  That is a great question, and that’s one that I think as we were looking to gain commitment, that was one of those sticking points for some of our smaller operators. One of the key elements behind safety management systems, and actually behind RP 1173 is the scalability and the flexibility built into the RP.

What we tell some of the smaller operators like you said, it can seem overwhelming. 10 elements, a 50-page RP, how do we implement it? What does this mean? For a smaller operator in particular, on the distribution side, that may have three, four, five employees, what does that mean?

The scalability and the flexibility with built into the RP, really I think allows some of the smaller operators to do this in a taking a bite out of the elephant, one bite at a time, instead of trying to do it all at once. We tell them, “You don’t need to do the whole RP at once. Pick a few of the elements, see how it applies to your program. Just take it in more of a stepwise fashion.”

Any effort to implement safety management systems, whether it’s a few elements to the full program, in our view, is successful, and it’s important to pipeline safety. You’re moving the ball just that little bit further forward.

I think that’s what I would say with some of the smaller operators. It’s scalable, it’s flexible. You don’t need to do it all at once, and really lean on some of your peers that have implemented safety management systems and, in particular, RP 1173. I think you gain a lot from that peer-to-peer engagement and at learning.

Russel:  I think that’s one of the things that’s really attracted me to this whole industry in the first place, is the way that we are able to collaborate on things that are in everybody’s best interest. It’s part of what makes working in this business fun.

David:  I completely agree.

Russel:  I have a couple other things that I want to talk about. One is tools. Obviously, there’s a lot of tools on the pipeline SMS site. I’m wondering what kind of tools — if you have any knowledge of what kind of tools some of the operators are using from a software perspective — to help implement all this?

David:  I know we’ve provided the gap tool and the effectiveness tool, but as far as the actual software programs, I don’t have a lot of knowledge behind what various operators are doing.

Again, some operators have been — you take some of the larger integrated companies — they’ve had a form of a safety management system in place for years. They’ve had their whatever their back-end programs are in place for years, but I don’t know the actual tools they are using to actually do that implementation.

We really haven’t done an assessment or an evaluation of what’s out there. We’ve just been providing them, again, those tools and resources to actually do the assessment and do the gap analysis that’s needed for the program.

Russel:  Earlier, here in the conversation, you talked about stove-piping, basically, what I would call islands of automation, or islands of operation, where different groups within the company are doing what they do, and not necessarily aware of the impact or how what they’re doing impacts the overall organization.

I think what you find in these bigger guys is they have relatively mature processes and systems for the departments, but when you start looking at what are they trying to do across all of that, to manage it holistically, I don’t know that there’s really anything in place for that.

David:  Yes, I completely agree. That’s really what safety management systems and the RP was intended to try to address, is really that horizontal integration. Like you said, some operators didn’t have it. How effective the safety management system program is — that’s really where we’re at in our implementation, is really evaluating that.

I think that will help us determine whether those stovepipes and those silos are being broken down. I think, again, that effectiveness assessment will be the way to help us try to measure that, and how well that’s being done.

Russel:  That makes a lot of sense. I think that’s actually the biggest challenge as you begin to mature something like this. Any time you have a new standard come out, there’s a process of everybody just understanding what’s in it, what it says, and what it means, which are not exactly the same thing.

Then there’s figuring out how to make that work in your organization. Then after you’ve gotten into something that’s actually working, then you start asking questions about, “Okay, so how do we actually make this efficient, effective, and actually get to the value that we were trying to get to in the first place?”

That’s a process. That’s just a natural process of how you do these things. If I might, I want to throw something out and challenge you a little bit. You talked about the 99.997 performance and being asked the question, “What about the .003?” You also talked about the goal of triple zero, no incidents, no injuries, no issues, or no releases.

The idea of tracking how many days you get a triple zero outcome, I think, is maybe better than tracking what your performance level is. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard about that, as a concept, but I’m wondering what your reaction to it is.

David:  To the zero incident question and you have some skeptics as to, even within the industry, is that more aspirational, or can we really get there. I was actually, at the International Pipeline Conference back in September, and there was an executive panel. One of the pipeline executives up on the stage was talking about that.

That question came up and he said, “If you don’t have that goal, then what are you really driving toward?” If you don’t have that goal…

Russel:  Yeah, exactly. That’s the point.

David:  I think it’s that mentality and that mindset, because you do still have skeptics within our industry, outside of our industry, that say, “Well, this is really dumb. We’re never going to get there, we’re not going to get that.”

If you don’t have a goal like that, then everything you’re doing, the continuous improvement in safety management systems, trying to get to that goal, is what we’re trying to ultimately achieve. From that standpoint, I think the approach that you’re talking about, maybe that’s where it does start.

Maybe it does start, again, in the smaller chunks, and then if you’re seeing those successes, in a smaller area of safety, it builds upon itself, and hopefully eventually, we get to that.

Russel:  You also find things that maybe you can look at, and maybe understand and model elsewhere. It’s like, “What are they doing that’s different than this other organization if they’re getting that result?” I’m with you, David, I think the only goal that makes sense is triple zero, and that you should be measuring how well you’re doing at achieving that goal.

David:  I completely agree.

Russel:  I know to some people that may be a subtle distinction, but I think, when you look at an organization, ultimately, it’s not subtle at all. It’s the only goal that makes sense, and anything less is, you know, just not okay.

David:  Again, ultimately, for our industry, that’s what, through all of what we’re trying to do, to address that remaining .003, if you don’t have that goal, then really what’s the point of trying to continuously improve with your safety performance?

Russel:  Let’s take this back. We started out talking about value. Maybe we could tie it back to that. For somebody who’s starting this, or for somebody that’s smaller, what do you think is the primary value you could get to in the first year of implementing something like this?

David:  I think it goes back to the gap analysis part of this. It’s really, as we were talking about earlier, the stovepipe, maybe not that horizontal integration is so great, in whatever size organization.

What that first step does with implementation and that gap assessment is really starts to look at really unpackaging your various programs that you have in place. The processes and the programs — as far as unpacking and seeing where that lack of integration is happening across your organization — I think that’s that first piece.

Then, from there, you’re making changes to programs, to processes, within those various segments of your organization. That’s where you really start to see the changes, the successes, the improvements in safety because of that, and the improvements in efficiency within the organization because of that.

We’re in what we refer to this year, we’ve made this year our “making it real” year. Last year was really more focused on implementation. This year is really focused on making it real. What are those successes that an organization is seeing? What are those challenges that an organization is seeing, and how they address it, how they overcome that?

What are those things, those nuggets that, as we talked about earlier, that peer-to-peer sharing, that sharing with those who may be skeptics, or not understand the program in full? Those nuggets that they can take away from some of the successes that some of the organizations have seen.

Russel:  I like to try to do a wrap-up when we get to this point in a conversation. A lot of times, I’ll do three key takeaways. I want to do something a little different this time. I think there’s really, for me, just one takeaway out of this.

It’s bound up in the idea that doing this well allows you to more effectively apply your resources. Let me unpack a little bit about what I mean by that. If I’m a small guy, and I can’t do a whole bunch of analysis around exactly my level of implementation, maybe it’s a simple thing, like, “Am I doing this or not?”

Even in that, having an understanding of am I doing it or not, and the value that activity would provide to my organization, being able to just have that understanding gives you a context for, “Okay, I’ve got limited resources. How am I going to apply them to get better?”

Ultimately, that’s the challenge in any pipeline operation, is you’ve got limited resources. How are you going to apply those limited resources?

David:  Really, the focus is of RP 1173 and safety management systems is around what we refer to as Plan Do Check Act. That’s exactly what you’re talking about. It’s managing risk. It comes down to limited resources.

How do I manage the risks that I’m facing as an organization within the pipeline safety sphere? The Plan Do Check Act is exactly that. You plan based on the risks that you think you have, you implement the programs or processes, and then you’re checking them. Do we have gaps, still have gaps that either result in an incident, near miss, or what have you? Then, make those adjustments. It’s that continuous cycle, which is really the foundation of the organization.

Going back to the whole idea of zero incidents, Plan Do Check Act, and that continuous improvement, if you have an operator that says, “We’re extremely mature, we’re at a point where we’re good, the safety management system has implemented, there’s nothing more we need to do,” they’re lying to themselves, because ultimately, there’s always things within an organization that need improvement. That’s across programs, within a specific program. Ultimately, it’s that. It’s that continuous improvement.

Part of that is having your employees buying into it, and buying into that, and that safety culture. Buying into the ability to be able to then themselves make decisions on safety, which are going to, again, drive the whole organization.

Russel:  Exactly. I think that’s very well said. David, look, I appreciate you coming onboard. I will tell you this, that just from a personal standpoint, I started out purely as a measurement guy, and a technologist.

As I’ve evolved in my career, and got closer to pipeline operations, and in particular, pipeline safety, I found my passion. This is a subject that’s near and dear to my heart personally. Anything we can do to help the API get the word out, or equip the industry to implement these programs, we want to do that.

As the process evolves, and as the program is happening, if there’s other things that we can have as conversations and bring you on to talk about, I really want to make that a priority and do it.

David:  Russel, I appreciate it. The podcast, this type of podcast, and just getting the word out through these types of communications is great. The more we can do of these types of things, I think, the better. The pipelinesms.org website you mentioned earlier, as you mentioned, is robust and full of information, resources, upcoming events, training, and things that we have planned.

I encourage people to go to that website if they want more information. I’m happy to be a contact, too, if there’s more information you need, you can always reach out to me. Again, I appreciate the opportunity to, as you mentioned, safety is a passion.

I’ve been a regulator. I was a regulator for 26 years, and it was all around safety. Now, doing for the industry the last three years, passion is safety, safety management systems, in both my coast guard, PHMSA, and now API career.

I’ve seen it work. I’ve seen it improve safety. I have the same commitment and passion to safety management systems as you do. Thanks for the opportunity. I really appreciate it.

Russel:  Thank you, David, and we’ll definitely be having you back.

David:  Great.

Russel:  Hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast, and our conversation with David Murk about pipeline safety management systems.

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

If you would like to support this podcast, you can leave a review on Apple podcast, Google Play, Stitcher, or whatever smart device podcast application you use. You can find instructions on pipelinerspodcast.com.

[background music]

Russel:  Finally, if you have ideas, questions, or topics you’d be interested in, or if you have guests you’d like to hear from, please let us know on the Contact Us page of pipelinerspodcast.com, or reach out to me on LinkedIn. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.

Transcription by CastingWords

Pipeliners Podcast © 2019