Read about the Pipeline SMS strategy promoted by PHMSA for pipeline operators

Pipeline SMS: Strategy to Support Zero Incidents

As the pipeline industry continues to focus on Pipeline Safety Management Systems, Pipeline SMS has become a clear strategy to support the industry-wide goal of zero incidents.

During the PHMSA Public Meetings held February 2020 in Houston, the PHMSA Office of Pipeline Safety held an Operators Meeting providing an update on the latest progress advancing toward zero incidents.

In addition to a review of the “progress report” for pipeline operators, the Operators Meeting presentation included a three-step strategy to support each operator on their respective Pipeline SMS journey.

  • 1. Reactive: Advance from the Past
  • 2. Proactive: Optimize the Present
  • 3. Predictive: Zero Incidents in the Future

How to Advance to Predictive in Pipeline SMS

While no two journeys are alike for pipeline operators, there is clear emphasis on arriving at the point of being more predictive in pipeline operations to support pipeline safety. Specifically, PHMSA pointed to the use of data analytics to identify safety issues before they happen. Consider how your operation can advance forward to this destination point.

1. Reactive: Learn From the Past

The industry pattern for pipeline safety is to introduce new rules or guidelines after an incident or accident occurs. In this traditional approach, Incident X happens and Rule X is implemented to prevent Incident X from happening again.

But, what about Incident Y or Z that has yet to happen that we don’t want to happen? Is there a preventative rule in place or an industry standard to guide pipeline operators and reduce the risk of these incidents occurring?

Pipeline SMS encourages operators to build on the traditional reactive mindset as a starting point to advance the quality and effectiveness of pipeline safety programs.

The specific call to action for operators and the industry as a whole is to develop strategies that respond to past incidents and accidents to better position everyone to become more proactive.

Operators should be learning from the past to identify the control room management gaps that led to historical pipeline incidents:

  • Poor Shift Handover
  • Outdated alarm rationalization
  • Slow point-to-point verification from the field to the control room
  • An overloaded SCADA system
  • Lack of training for control room personnel
  • Other issues that have led to incidents

Industry needs to learn from these incidents. And, industry needs to use information from incidents to become more proactive in current pipeline operators.

2. Proactive: Actively Collect Data

Advancing from the past to the present in Pipeline SMS requires a proactive approach of actively collecting data to identify and address current hazardous conditions.

This is a significant step for many pipeline operators. What’s the hurdle? While most operators are collecting data, there is a common issue that operators either have too much data in the system or not enough data in the system. And, even more to the point, the data is not contextualized.

If we can take it a step further, it’s not enough to just collect data. The data needs to be contextualized for each stakeholder or user to help them make critical decisions about current operating conditions.

Said another way, operators should build a decision analysis framework that correlates the activities and outcomes with the desired operating outcomes. Then, the raw data needs to be processed, normalized, and correlated to the desired activities and outcomes. (Listen to this Pipeliners Podcast episode with Justin Shannon of Marathon for more perspective.)

Additionally, data should be correlated with normal, abnormal, and emergency operating conditions. Then this data can be brought into the pipeline controller HMI to ensure that controllers can achieve situational awareness and make the better decisions to effectively and safely operate through a broad range of operating scenarios and conditions.

In summary, effective pipeline safety requires that data be processed into information that is useful, timely, valuable, and of high quality. Once data collection is optimized for its specific purpose in the control room, operators can advance toward being more predictive.

3. Predictive: Anticipate Incidents

Here’s where everything comes together to achieve a strategic and highly-effective Pipeline SMS program.

When you perform the analysis of past incidents to find safety gaps that led to the incidents and blend that analysis with effective data contextualization for current operations, you can better predict what activities and outcomes must be managed to prevent future incidents before they happen.

When you arrive at this phase of predictive pipeline safety management, the call to action for pipeline operators is to systematically analyze safety risk data and perform forward-looking data analytics to identify potential or future problems along with the appropriate mitigation.

That is a lot to unpack. And, before we dive into this aspect of Pipeline SMS, it’s important to note that PHMSA does not expect operators to reach this phase overnight. It’s a process. This is a landmark on the roadmap that operators should be aiming toward to support zero incidents, but not everyone will reach the destination at the same time.

One of the primary challenges is the cost of systematically analyzing safety risk data and performing data analytics. Going back to Phase 2 of being proactive, how you manage data contextualization is a significant contributor to how soon you can reach Phase 3 of being predictive.

– For example, if you have too much data in the system, you’re not being cost-efficient. If you really only need to poll field devices once every second, but you’re polling once every millisecond, then you’re over-spending on data collection that is putting a strain on your data management resources.

That’s why optimizing data collection for usefulness, timeliness, value, quality, and cost-efficiency is a critical aspect of reaching the ultimate destination of Pipeline SMS.

Once you achieve cost-efficiency, then you can start investing in advanced data analytics capabilities to help identify a potential incident before it happens.

Support for Your Pipeline SMS Journey

Reaching the point of being predictive will look different for each operator. Some operators need to advance from being reactive to proactive, which may include a cultural shift of attitudes and behaviors in the control room.

Others are the proactive stage needing to optimize their data or support current safety initiatives centered around achieving situational awareness and executing the Plan Do Check Act cycle.

No matter where you are on the journey, we can help your operation take the next step. In 2020, we made a conscious effort to align our products and services with the pillars of Pipeline SMS.

This way, we can best support the specific needs of each operator to achieve the objectives of Pipeline SMS. Specifically, we are available to discuss the strategy for your operation that aligns with the PHMSA objective of advancing from Reactive to Proactive to Predictive.

Talk to us today about how we can support your operation on the journey. Contact us through our website contact form, call us at 281-598-7100, or email