Posted September 20, 2019
There are over 200,000 miles (300,000 kms) of oil and natural gas pipelines in the U.S. Many of them are submerged and run across navigable rivers, ports, and waterways, with some locations known and others unknown.
A year and half ago the spud on a cutter suction dredge punctured an underwater natural gas pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in the total loss of the dredge and towboat due to fire. Luckily, there was no loss of life due to one crew member’s quick action. Interestingly, the pipeline hit by the dredge’s spud was inactive and abandoned, but residual hydrocarbons were sufficient to cause the fire. With ports and rivers continuing to be deepened and widened for benefit of commerce, this incident highlighted risks to the entire marine and oil and gas infrastructure industries.
The accident spurred William Doyle, CEO of the Dredging Contractors of America (DCA) and Chairman of the Council for Dredging and Marine Construction Safety (CDMCS) Pipeline Task Force (PTF) and Michael Gerhardt, DCA Vice President and Managing Director of the CDMCS to lead a joint inter-agency, public-private initiative focused on ensuring safe operations in waterways with submerged oil and natural gas pipelines through enhanced communication, collaboration and exchange of best practices among all stakeholders.
The fifth session of the PTF meeting convened on September 17, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Doyle kicked off the meeting by noting:“There are pipelines and conduits in the seabed, and we want to make sure, from a dredging standpoint, that the contractors and people working in the channels know where they are located.”Over the last year the task force has worked collecting data to assist dredging contractors identify existing and unknown pipelines before dredging commences. (Dredging contractors typically utilize USACE-provided “plans and specs”to identify pipeline locations.) With the help of David McMasters of Chevron Pipe Line Company and Carl Dickerson of dredging contractor Mike Hooks, Inc, the PTF conducted earlier in 2019 a successful pilot study of pipelines in the Calcasieu River near Lake Charles, Louisiana. As a result of this successful pilot study, the PTF has begun discussions with the Railroad Commission of Texas, the regulatory body responsible for all pipelines in Texas, as well as with ports in Texas to coordinate similar pipeline studies.
In addition, the PTF members, in coordination with Michael Gerhardt, PTF Director, have worked tirelessly to put together a draft of recommended best practices guide and hazard mitigation checklist for safe dredging near underwater pipelines and cables. (See cover page of draft report below.) “It is important to understand,” said Doyle, “that this is not a law or a regulation, nor is it designed to supplant dredging contractors’ existing safety programs.” The purpose is to be an additional guideline for contractors. Equally important is that input also came from federal and state regulators, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the State of Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Office of Conservation.
PTF members were tasked by its Director, Gerhardt, to review the recommended best practices guide and checklist with their respective senior management and governmental teams, as well as federal and state agencies, in order to get additional suggestions and feedback. It is the task force’s goal to have a final product ready for distribution by the end of the year.
The PTF also invited Michael Malik, Marketing & Sales Director of Stema Systems, to speak about its sub-bottom cable and pipeline detection systems. Since 1986 Stema has been providing hydrographic equipment and software for the acoustical investigation of the seabed for the dredging industry. In 2016 Stema developed a cable detection system that would enable detection of the location of cables and objects buried in the seabed.
The CDMCS Pipeline Task Force includes U.S. dredging companies, oil and gas companies, energy associations like the American Petroleum Industry (API), Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), and Louisiana Mid Continent Oil & Gas Association (LMOGA), and federal and state agencies including USACE, PHMSA, NOAA, and the State of Louisiana DNR Office of Conservation.
It is clear that the CDMCS Pipeline Task Force is achieving a new level of communication and cooperation between all relevant parties with obvious benefits to all.