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Pipeline Operators Partner with First Responders
Pipeline releases, while rare, do sometimes occur. When that happens, pipeline operators work together with local first responders, government agency representatives, and cleanup contractors to respond as quickly as possible, perform any cleanups, and then investigate what happened.
Pipeline operators and the public can learn about pipeline releases different ways. Many times, the first indication of a problem comes in the pipeline operator’s control room, from a sensor that shows a drop in pressure for example . Other times a member of the public will see something and report it to local authorities. The pipeline operator will respond by shutting down the flow on the pipeline and closing nearby valves to limit the size of the release. The operator will next notify a National Response Center that will help coordinate government agencies responding to the situation.
Containment and Cleanup
All pipeline operators are required to have detailed emergency response plans describing how they will respond to any emergency. These plans can be quickly invoked to deploy containment equipment such as movable barriers and booms to limit the spread of a spill, followed by equipment such as vacuum trucks and steam cleaners to clean up the spill. A government On Scene Coordinator, such as from the U.S. Coast Guard or U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will help organize efforts.
Protecting the Public and Environment
The highest priority is protecting the public. Operators will set up air monitors to check air quality and make sure the public is safe. A high priority is also placed on protecting local steams, rivers and lakes to minimize environmental impacts. Acting quickly at the beginning of an incident can contain a spill and keep any release as small as possible.
Investigation and Followup
Every release over 5 gallons must be reported to the government. Larger releases will undergo a formal investigation to determine the cause and any lessons that can be learned in the future. Pipeline operators participate regularly in an industry-wide group called the Performance Excellence Team to share pipeline safety experiences and recommendations. Every year, operators attend a conference to exchange information on near misses and incidents to learn from each other additional strategies to improve pipeline safety.