Companies in the utility industry – whether it’s water, electric, or gas – are continuously improving their integrity management programs, leak detection technologies, organizational processes, and updating assets to maintain a safe and compliant system.
In addition to companies striving to practice organizational due diligence, governing bodies such as the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and Texas Railroad Commission (TRRC) develop and enforce strict regulations that companies must adapt to quickly.
One major challenge in the utility space is pipeline leak detection. Because of the severe repercussions of an undetected leak, companies must aim to be proactive rather than reactive. Regulatory compliance organizations hold utility companies accountable for their assets and ensure their systems can detect potential leaks based on threats in the surrounding environment.
Why are Leak Detection Technologies and Interactive Threats important?
So why must utility companies prioritize dynamic pipeline leak detection programs? Consider the following in the eyes of a large utility provider serving numerous customers.
1. Risk management and reduction are vital to avoid severe incidents, stay compliant, and ensure power, water, and gas to consumers.
2. Governing bodies are expecting companies to utilize technology and support their integrity management programs with accurate data.
3. Reducing emissions that potentially minimize product losses, increase safety, decrease the exposure of the surrounding community, decrease emissions fees, and help facilities avoid enforcement actions.
Another aspect of pipeline leak detection is assessing the risk level of the threats that are interacting with assets in the system. With the expansion of technology and data availability in the industry, companies are expected to use these resources to practice operational due diligence. Currently, many utilities are advancing their integrity management programs (IMP), training their compliance managers and operators, and implementing GIS-based systems to ensure their organization is ahead of the curve.
Reactive Leak Detection: Where do we start?
The EPA provides a Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR): Best Practices Guide which includes the industry best practices in building out a leak detection program. The guide lists the following as important elements of an LDAR –
- Identifying Components
- Leak Definition
- Monitoring Components
- Repairing Components
This guide also includes information about the importance of regulating pipeline leak detection, the benefits of a strong LDAR program, and other aspects in safely implementing a full-proof risk assessment model. Within each of these elements, utility companies are embedding advanced technology and using complex data-driven formulas and methodologies to identify risks on assets. As stated in PHMSA’s February 2020 bulletin titled, Pipeline Risk Modeling, risk models are an integral part of integrity and risk management and provide a representation of the risk throughout a pipeline system by combining likelihood and consequence aspects of unintended pipeline releases.