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This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features Bill DeFoor of the Municipal Gas Authority of Georgia discussing the PHMSA public awareness rule with Russel Treat.

The discussion centers on the PHMSA requirement for effective communication between pipeline operators and stakeholders that include the affected public, emergency officials, local public officials, and excavators.

You will also learn about the challenges of meeting the regulatory requirements for audit purposes and the need for regulations to be updated to reflect the latest technology. Listen to this valuable episode to learn more about public awareness for your role in pipeline operations.

Public Awareness: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms

Public Awareness: Full Episode Transcript

Russel Treat:  Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 91, sponsored by Gas Certification Institute, providing training and standard operating procedures for custody transfer measurement professionals. Find out more about GCI at gascertification.com.

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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 Ada Kari. If I didn’t pronounce your name right, I apologize. Just drop me a note and spell it phonetically, and I’ll be glad to get it right next time. To learn how you can win this signature prize pack, stick around ‘til the end of the episode.

This week, we have Bill DeFoor joining us. Bill is with the Gas Authority of the state of Georgia, and he’s going to talk to us about public awareness. Bill, welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast.

Bill DeFoor:  Thank you, Russel. Glad to be here.

Russel:  For the listeners’ benefit, I’d like to ask you to just tell people who you are, your background, how you got into pipeline, and particularly, how you got into public awareness.

Bill:  I’m Bill DeFoor. I’m Director of Regulatory Compliance for the Municipal Gas Authority of Georgia. My professional career really began in general contracting. Spent quite a few years in industrial, commercial, and utility contracting, and along the way got interested in the underground portion.

Moved from there to managing utilities for a local city — water, wastewater, and natural gas. When the systems grew and the department split, I followed gas and really fell in love with that part of the industry.

Moved from municipal utility management to managing a regional office of a consulting engineering firm, and then in 2006 joined the Municipal Gas Authority of Georgia with the newly started regulatory compliance service.

Russel:  Tell us about the Gas Authority, what it is, and what it does. I think that would be of interest to the listeners.

Bill:  The Municipal Gas Authority of Georgia is what’s known as a joint action agency. In the early and mid ’80s, when the interstate pipelines were deregulating, and the municipals in Georgia realized that they were going to be on their own for purchasing gas, scheduling delivery, they joined forces.

Through the Georgia General Assembly, had the Municipal Gas Authority created as a non-profit joint action agency that pools their resources to go into the marketplace and buy long term gas supplies. We have a staff that manages those supplies and schedules deliveries.

Our enabling legislation allows us to provide other services. In 2006, at the request of our members, we created the Regulatory Compliance Service that provides a scope of services to municipals within Georgia and in surrounding states for recordkeeping, operator qualification, report preparation, manuals and plans, and regulatory representation.

Russel:  Interesting. Are you aware of any other states doing similar things?

Bill:  There are some states that have municipal training organizations and that do some of the things that we do. I don’t know of an exact replication. I know Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities provides some similar services, and a lot more on the training side for both gas and electric up there.

Russel:  That’s fascinating. That’s probably a subject for another day, because I asked you to come on to talk about public awareness.

I have to admit, I’m kind of a novice in this subject domain. I only really have a notional understanding, so I’ve actually been looking for someone to come on and talk about this subject. With that, I’m just going to dive in and ask, what is public awareness, and why should I care?

Bill:  [laughs] Public awareness is the third generation of a regulatory requirement for safety communication. It used to be a line item or a sub bullet in the Emergency Plan Requirement 192.615 that required operators to communicate safety messages with the public. That evolved into the Public Education Requirement 192.616, that in about 2005 became the Public Awareness Rule.

The Public Awareness Rule requires operators to develop a plan for communicating safety messages to various stakeholder audiences.

Operators are required to identify individuals or entities in four different categories — the affected public, which is both customers and non-customers adjacent to their facilities, emergency responders, public officials, and excavators. There are a required list of message elements to be delivered to each of those audiences on varying frequencies.

There’s a requirement for an annual review of the implementation of the plan to see if the message delivery is being carried out properly, that the maintenance of the stakeholder audience list is correct and being updated.

Then periodically, not exceeding four years, there’s a requirement for an effectiveness evaluation, which is basically surveys or interviews with members of each of these stakeholder audiences to determine if the messages and the elements of the messages are being understood and are producing a desired effect, the bottom line results.

If the operator determines that the results are not being attained, then there are requirements to supplement either their delivery method, message content, or both, in an effort to improve the effectiveness of their public awareness program.

Russel:  There’s a whole bunch of things that come up for me as I’m listening to you, Bill.

One of them is, because of our office and where it’s located adjacent to a number of pipeline operators, we get a lot of these little postcards in the mail about 811, and pipeline awareness, and all that kind of stuff. I just wonder, in this day and age, how effective really is that kind of communication?

Bill:  That’s a great question because, and it’s something that we’ve asked. One of the challenges with the rule and the enforcement of the rule, the PHMSA inspection form that inspectors use to determine compliance, is that certain things must be done to prove that messages were delivered to certain individuals.

Some might argue that a television ad would be more effective for you than that postcard, but the operator can’t prove that you saw the television spot. They can prove that at least that postcard was delivered.

Russel:  That goes right to an argument that a lot of people would make about a lot of things related to regulatory compliance is, is this about compliance, or is it about effectiveness?

Obviously, to do an audit, you have to have some kind of proof that you’re doing things. You actually want to audit for the outcome, not the activity ideally, but to me, that just seems problematic. Tell me again, you mentioned the year that the Public Awareness Rule was originally put into law. When was that?

Bill:  I think the rule became final in 2005, and every operator was required to have a plan in place by the middle of 2006. PHMSA hired an independent contractor, a clearing house to review all of those plans for inclusion of all the elements that were required by the rule, and then adjustments were made to those plans before they were implemented.

Russel:  That was 15 years ago, right?

Bill:  Right.

Russel:  If you think about how far communications technology has moved in that 15 years, and if you think that that rule was probably written materially three to five years before it became final, that means that the rule was written given an understanding of how communications worked 20 years ago.

Bill:  Yes, and I think that API, American Petroleum Institute, realized that the initial rule needed some revisions for reasons just like you stated. A second edition of our RP 1162 was developed and published, but it was not incorporated by reference by PHMSA.

There were some provisions of it that I think they didn’t like, and so a third edition is being developed right now with a lot of involvement from PHMSA.

I think it’s still probably a year away from publishing by API, and then there would have to be the PHMSA review and determination of incorporation after that.

Russel:  That’s just one of the issues that comes up for me. There’s others about just the, how do you effectively target the people that need to know, and then verify that they’re actually receiving and retaining the message?

There are people that are marketing folks trying to move products that spend millions of dollars every year trying to figure that out. [laughs] It is not an easy subject, and it’s a moving target and changes quite quickly.

Bill:  It is, very much. I’ve characterized the public awareness rule as a marketing effort of a safety message, because the marketing folks have figured out how to deliver messages, and they don’t do it all with one medium.

There’s written print, the print, radio, television, and now social media. They use all of the options that are out there, but the rule, because of the verification of compliance, limits many of the operators in what they’re able to direct their resources toward.

Russel:  I actually had this conversation with one of the public awareness folks at one of the large operators here in Houston, just an informal conversation, because I was trying to learn and was asking some questions about things like social media and other, if you will, more modern methods of communication.

They were very clear about, “Well, the challenge is, we need to be able to demonstrate we’re targeting an audience, and if we can’t demonstrate that, then that spend is with no regulatory compliance benefit.”

Bill:  Right, for the individual operators and their individual compliance requirements. Public awareness is very much a different type of rule for the operators, I think, because if an operator has a problem with an odorizer or a pressure release valve, they can go fix it. It’s their equipment. They make the change, and they’re back in compliance.

In this case, you have operators required to do certain things, deliver messages to audiences that aren’t required to even look at them, and then the operator is judged on whether or not they’ve moved the needle on how much those audiences absorb and respond to that message.

Russel:  From a strategic standpoint, from a high-level standpoint, that makes a lot of sense because, ultimately, what you want is the people who need to know, to know.

Bill:  Right.

Russel:  However, from an operator trying to demonstrate efficacy, I don’t know, that’s such a gushy thing to do. We’re engineers. We like to line things up and knock them down, tab A into slot B kind of stuff, and this is not that.

Bill:  Yeah, and when you’re talking about determining the effectiveness of your system based on statistically valid sampling and surveys, and off into another marketing or polling activity, and then pull it back and do something that you can measure in increments, it’s very hard.

Russel:  Yes, no doubt. That’s certainly one of the challenges. I’m sure there’s some others. What might those be? For me as a novice, what would you want me to know?

Bill:  I think another challenge is back to the operators being inspected and graded for compliance individually. When many times there are operators, the audiences are served by more than one operator.

For example, an extreme case in Georgia is, there’s a county — and Georgia’s counties are small —  there’s a county that has seven municipal operators, one investor-owned distribution operator, and an interstate pipeline.

There are nine gas operators in that county, each of which is required to identify members of the four stakeholder audiences, deliver messages, survey for effectiveness.

There are people in those counties that are receiving multiple messages from multiple operators. It’s at least confusing and may actually work against the intent of the rule by providing, if not conflicting, possibly inconsistent messages.

Russel:  I also would wonder in a situation like that, because it’s similar for me    different, because I understand the industry and what’s going on — but I have no idea how many mailers I get a year that are related to public awareness, but it’s a lot.

At some point, you just become numb to the communication, so by doing those things that you’re required to do, I actually wonder if you’re moving the needle in the wrong way if you end up in an oversaturation of messaging.

Bill:  I think that’s entirely possible, and it opens the door. The opportunity for collaboration is there. If in that county that I cited, if there could be a uniform message on behalf of all the operators or a group of them to each of the audiences, and then in turn, a survey for effectiveness, one survey that each could rely on.

The challenge comes back to that individual compliance if multiple operators are using one method together. There are some successful moves toward collaboration, and one is what’s known as the PERI programs or initiatives, Pipeline Emergency Response Initiative.

Georgia had the first, GPERI. It’s designed initially for firefighters so that the operators, by paying into a common group, would fund firefighting training by firefighters of firefighters in natural gas emergencies.

Rather than pipeline operators trying to tell firefighters what they ought to do at a natural gas emergency, there’s a curriculum designed for firefighters to deliver to firefighters. It’s been well received, and it’s been replicated and being replicated in states across the country in various forms.

We’re also seeing another initiative in Georgia with the excavators, where our Call Before You Dig, our One Call Center, is delivering messages to all excavators in the state. Then doing the effectiveness evaluation, one evaluation of all excavators, and parsing that out so that operators can take advantage of that, rely on that one set of messaging.

Russel:  Interesting. I would think also that the nature of the operation causes complexity as well. Certainly, transmission would be different than gathering would be different than utility.

Bill:  Absolutely. I really believe that the Public Awareness Rule was born out of the need for transmission operators, or PHMSA’s determination that the transmission operators needed to communicate with the property owners and the occupants of properties adjacent to their pipeline.

They’re typically cross-country facilities that, I believe they would like to be as far from population dense areas as they can be, where the distribution operators are just the opposite.

We’re in the streets, in the front yards of our customers. We want to be in the dense areas because that’s where our customers are. You’ve got many cases where the municipal operators that I deal with have been in business for 50 or 60 years. They’re well established in their communities. Everyone knows that they’re there.

They’re part of the community. The same workers that work on the gas are also in the churches, the schools, and the Little League with the people who live there. The presence of most distribution facilities is pretty well known as opposed to the transmission operators that may be nearby, and folks are not even aware that they’re there.

Russel:  I would suspect that the nature of the messaging would be different as well, because with a transmission situation in a rural area, it’s more about making sure people know it’s there. Where in a utility in an urban area, it’s more about, “Here’s how you safely utilize this stuff in your home.” That’s a very different kind of messaging.

Bill:  It is, and to some extent there is a difference in the regulatory compliance. The baseline messages are the same for both groups, and then there are some additional messages that the transmission operators are required to add on top of that.

You’ve got some differences like odorization, where all distribution operators are required to have odorant, and in many cases, the transmission gas may not be odorized.

Russel:  Right, exactly. Exactly. I want to ask you to talk a little bit more about this idea of collaboration. I’m starting, at least in my experience, to hear this idea more places, where pipeline operators think they can be more effective from a safety standpoint when they work together versus work independently.

What’s your experience with that, and how difficult do you think it’s going to be to get the regulators to start to allow for that?

Bill:  I think there’s recognition that of the challenges. PHMSA has convened a Public Awareness Working Group in 2013 to look at the results of the first round of implementation effectiveness evaluation inspections and see where improvements might be possible, to evaluate those.

I was on the Public Awareness Program Working Group, PAPWG, in 2013, where we did a SWOT analysis of the program and the results, looked at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats associated with the rule and the enforcement of the rule, the way it had played out.

That was a good start toward recognizing the differences between the two industry segments and opening the door, maybe, for collaboration. From what I hear, the third edition of RP 1162 hopefully will include more provisions and encouragement of collaboration so that it really is…

If you look at the way the audiences are identified — affected public, for example — if that’s just customers and people within, say, 220 yards of those facilities, somebody just beyond that probably works in an area that has natural gas or certainly drives through it.

To be more far reaching with the message and get to anyone who might ever come in contact with a natural gas emergency would be, I believe, a more effective approach than just focusing on the limited number of people who are right on the pipeline.

Russel:  That makes perfect sense to me. You’re talking about the new version of API 1162. I’m curious. Do you know if that version is going to address use of other kinds of media such as social media, podcasting, radio advertising, those kinds of things?

Bill:  I have heard that that’s being considered. I don’t know to what extent it will be in the third version.

Russel:  Interesting. I would think that given what you can do with pools like Facebook, and how effectively you can target, and how you can get feedback, that there would be some value there.

Bill:  For sure. I think that having the regulation or compliance with the regulation driven by the checkbox mindset is counterproductive.

As you said, we’re 15 years later, and technology has advanced to such a great extent that we should certainly take advantage of that. Not only because the technology has changed, but the users of that technology, the next generation, that may not even receive a bill in the mail so that you could put a stuffer in it or send that postcard.

If everything comes by email, text, or whatever other medium is out there, then we’re going to have to think of different methods to be effective.

Russel:  The other thing, as we’re having this conversation, I remember growing up watching TV, and there was a certain amount of TV time that was allocated for political and public service type announcements. There’s nothing like that that I’m aware of that’s occurring on any of these social media platforms. I wonder if that ought to be a requirement.

Bill:  Moving over into the regulation of social media now, [laughs] I’m not sure how the response would be. That public service announcement component is certainly an opportunity to get the word out there. If you think of the “Buckle Up for Safety” campaign, I remember when no one wore seatbelts.

Russel:  Me, too. Go off in a rabbit hole a little bit. A friend of mine purchased a ’68 Mustang Fastback a few years back, and I got to ride in that thing. A couple of things happened. One is, I smelled that burning leaded gasoline, and it took me back to high school, because it just smells different, and it transported me.

The other thing was I got into that thing, and I’m looking around. All the surfaces are metal, and it still had the old-school type of seatbelts in it. Scared the bejeezus out of me, and I used to ride around with those things all the time as a kid, and never gave it a second thought.

Bill:  [laughs] Exactly.

Russel:  These things do change attitudes and culture over time, for sure.

Bill:  Right.

Russel:  One of the things I like to do, Bill, often is try to summarize this into three key takeaways. It’s a little difficult for me here, because really, I don’t know very much at all about public awareness.

I think of the first key takeaways, is what it’s about or the purpose, is to educate. For the pipeline operators to educate the public they impact about the risks and mitigations associated with their facilities. That’s one takeaway.

I think the other is that there’s a whole lot of challenges around how you do that, particularly given that the operators are being audited around their performance in getting that message out to the right people and having them actually receive it.

Lastly, I think my other key takeaway here is that one of the big challenges is that the regulations are not necessarily keeping up with the technology.

How do you think I did on my takeaways?

Bill:  I think those are all excellent points. They are. No doubt that it’s a valuable and needed requirement. To be constantly upgrading, moving, adapting to the way it’s rolled out is the challenge.

Russel:  No doubt. I know you work with a lot of operators in Georgia. I’m wondering how someone might reach out to you if they had questions or wanted to follow up and maybe take a deeper dive into this conversation.

Bill:  I can be reached by email at bdefoor@gasauthority.com. You can call me at 678-488-9470.

Russel:  We’ll be sure and link that up in the show notes. Bill, thank you so very much for coming on. I have learned a great deal about public awareness. I feel like I’ve moved beyond just a notional understanding, and I have a little bit of an actual understanding.

Bill:  I’m glad you’re more aware.

Russel:  [laughs] There you go. Again, thanks so much for being on.

Bill:  Thank you.

Russel:  I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Bill DeFoor.

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Russel:  If you have ideas, questions, or topics you’d be interested in, please let me know on the Contact Us page at pipelinerspodcast.com or reach out to me on LinkedIn.

Thanks for listening, I’ll talk to you next week.

Transcription by CastingWords

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