APGA 2016: Perth

It’s nice to be back in Brisbane for a rest from the conferences.  I’m fortunate to have been able to attend both of the best pipeline conferences this year:  IPC in Calgary, and APGA this year in Perth.

The Perth event was, like the Calgary one, surprisingly upbeat and fun.  My acquaintances (not in the industry) have asked ‘what was the mood like?’, because while not specifically in the pipeline industry, most are involved in the resources sector and we all know about the downturn affecting us.  And in truth, I have been able to tell them that the mood was rather good.  I hope it’s not because we’re in denial.  Our situation is changing, but there are still opportunities to be found.

There were over 300 delegates – which is impressive given the location (the west coast of Australia is a long way from the east coast, and therefore time-consuming and expensive to get t0).

Those in the Australian industry know that the annual conference is an essential event on the calendar, due to its ability to bring all sectors together in one place, with a slight focus on business sessions but a bigger focus on networking and meeting new contacts.  And again, it did not fail.

The four evening sessions (Saturday -Tuesday nights) allowed plenty of time to talk, and reminisce, and argue, and agree, and drink nice wine, eat good food, and, funny enough with many of us in our middle-ages, dance.

The business sessions were well attended and topical.  I noticed that this year, there was a focus on markets and the future of gas, which is appropriate.  What I learned, is that even having been in the industry for over 20 years, I’ve never really thought about who uses gas, who our customers are, and how we grow market-share.  Interestingly, that is both simplistic and complicated:  the utility companies, and industrial users, are our customers – but it’s complicated by policy and regulation, and now moreso than ever, the environmental lobby.

Amongst all the noise, we do need to think about who uses the products in our pipelines, and, how we get more users.



Define it: Pipeline Industry

Back in 2004, I conducted a totally unscientific and non-academic research project trying to “define a pipeline engineer”.  This became the subject of an industry dinner presentation, and now 12 years later, we have come a long way. But now, these 12 years later, are we defining the right thing?

In the early 2000s questions were being asked by senior members of the industry about what we are doing to ensure that the industry would remain as skilled as it was.  I had the same concerns back then, although less so now.  At the time, I was just past my 10 year experience milestone and was wondering how to define my skills, what was my label?

I think a lot of people go through that at 10 years’ experience – we oscillate in thoughts between “how come I don’t know everything, if I’ve been working for so long?”  And, “is that all there is, after all this time?”

As part of my unscientific study back in 2004, I asked a number of colleagues in the industry how they would define a pipeline engineer.

“I don’t know” was a common first response, but then once people had thought about it we had some good insights.  “Could be anyone”, “could be any discipline” was typical too, although many said “mechanical”, some included “civil” but there was a split on process engineers: one said absolutely not a process discipline, and one said a pipeline engineer should or must be a process engineer. Some pointed out that many good pipeliners aren’t even engineers – and that is true too.

The industry now has a comprehensive, all-encompassing set of APGA competencies which thoroughly explain what skills and abilities we, the industry, expect of our pipeline personnel.  We can’t say “I don’t know” anymore if asked what skills a pipeline engineer should have.

But, as seems to be a theme for the last few posts here, is, things are changing.  So now, while we might be totally in control of how we define ourselves individually, the new question is, in these times of change, is, how do we now define our industry??

We are providing an essential service to our society, but there are alternatives and efficiencies developing, and we probably need to recognise that.

Are we:

  • an energy provider
  • a transport provider
  • a utilities industry
  • essential infrastructure
  • none of the above, or
  • all of the above.







Two New Things

Last comment on IPC2016, now that it has wrapped up for another round.

Two things have stuck with me as new and innovative ideas for the pipeline industry to consider, and, perhaps, embrace.

  1. The aviation industry
  2. 3D Printing

The linkage between the aviation industry approach to safety and high-reliability culture was made numerous times in Calgary.  The aviation approach to safety and culture may be something we need to recognise, and engage with in the future.

It was only mentioned once, that I was aware of, but – when one of the speakers mentioned the possibilities in 3D printing, it struck a chord.  It’s very early days for this technology, but with ongoing and increasing need to effectively and efficiently maintain our facilities into the distant future, this possibility may deserve some attention, for small and hard-to-get parts.



The Overlooked Eight

One of the paper presentations I attended at IPC2016 reflected on “16 years of auditing pipeline integrity management systems, and what’s been learned”.  First they outlined the seventeen management aspects that make up a model for Penspen’s standardised pipeline integrity management system:

  1. Policy and Objectives
  2. Management and Organisation
  3. Data and Document Control
  4. Risk Assessment
  5. Design Assurance
  6. Construction Assurance
  7. Procurement Control
  8. Handover and Commissioning
  9. Normal Operations
  10. Planned Inspection, Maintenance and Repair
  11. Emergency Response
  12. Emergency Recovery and Repair
  13. Accident, Incident and Near Miss Investigation and Reporting
  14. Change Control
  15. Legal and Code Compliance
  16. Quality Control
  17. Review and Audit

This is a good list, and if you’re an auditor, or even moreso, if you are an auditee, having a good handle on how the business manages these items will be beneficial.

Fortunately, rather than dwell on this list of useful audit items, this paper and presentation at IPC2016 gave us a summary of what has been most often been missing in businesses and organisations.

This list of eight may also be useful, not just for auditing but also for general good-old-fashioned project management. If you have a handle on these aspects in your business, or your project, you’re ahead of many others:

  1. Defined objectives and KPIs – which are evidently tracked and followed-up.
  2. Interface management between stakeholders, project participants, etc.
  3. Risk management (for people, environment and also business risk and integrity risk).
  4. Project handover plans.
  5. Safe operating limits – for a pipeline (beyond design pressure and MAOP), a business, or for a project:  at what defined point are things ‘really bad’.
  6. Emergency response – these should not be in isolation but should be directly tied to your risk management items.
  7. Recovery and repair plan – for a pipeline operation and / or a project.
  8. Ongoing status and insight into the effectiveness of own plans and procedures.

This list of eight items could be set out and resolved at the beginning of a project, for an ongoing pipeline integrity system, and/or, for good business management too.

Approaches to Risk Management

In 2010 at IPC, Peter Tuft made observations about the differing approach to risk analysis and management in North America.  Six years later, I was about to write similar – more like, the same – observations.

At IPC2016, I’ve attended several papers that address risk management, risk approaches, assurance management, risk models, frequency estimates, etc.  It still appears that the approach here is very much quantitative, with efforts around statistical analysis, calculating probabilities of failure, creating new matrices to present the data, and setting risk appetite levels.

At one presentation, we were advised of pipelines that were 250km long, which had a failure return period of 154 to 444 years.  But there was no specific reference to an actual 250km pipeline that this data applied to.  Or what to do with a 444-year-old pipeline.

At another, we were shown graphs of data about reliability (reliability being equal to 1 – probability of failure), and ways to calibrate the data and have ‘timely and continuous integrity reliability results’, and that, by updating and calibrating the data, ‘integrity goes up’.  Not once was a dig-up, replacement, or ILI run mentioned.  I started to think about data analysis paralysis.

The Australian pipeline community should (still) be rightfully proud of our threat-based approach to design and pipeline management, which is still appropriate for our industry.  There may be times when quantitative analysis is required or even beneficial, but in the main, this week has re-affirmed the approach we use, and I’m glad to be a part of it.



Do you believe in science?

The lunchtime speaker on Wednesday at IPC, Jay Ingram, was particularly inspiring.

The title of his presentation was “Who Believes in Science”, and he went on to propose something interesting:  in controversial science discussions, it doesn’t matter.

People should be able to read a science-based article in the media, and understand it enough to assess its veracity and question or agree with the conclusions.  Fair enough.  But generally, scientifically-literate people simply think that if there is disagreement in a scientific discussion, then clearly the other person isn’t scientifically literate enough, and that’s why they disagree.  And the ‘literate’ person just tries to impart knowledge on the non-‘literate’ person.

It’s becoming apparent though, and we’ve talked about this a little in the pipeline industry, that for controversial issues, more information and more data doesn’t matter: it doesn’t seem to solve the disagreement.  More data may even make strong views even stronger, whether in agreement or disagreement with the data presented.  There have been experiments done to prove this.

Humans are social creatures, and we want to belong to a social group, or tribe – and we want to protect the integrity of that group.  Evidence that shows our beliefs or understandings are wrong may just reinforce our beliefs, because we just don’t want to be wrong.  There is an unconscious bias to protect our beliefs.

Two scales were introduced, and a google-search on this theory will provide more details for you.  The two scales are:

Individualist <—–> Communitarian

Hierarchical <—–> Egalitarian.

The labels themselves are almost self-explanatory, and we are all somewhere on the range of each scale.  Apparently, based on an individuals’ position on those scales, we can fairly accurately guess their views on controversial issues such as capital punishment, GMO foods and climate change.  The test/example given at the lunch made me realise, there might be something to this.

The problem is, of course, this uncovers social and cultural attitude that we may even have trouble pinning down.  The same person can believe the science claims about climate change, but doubt the science behind the safe GMOs claim.

For the pipeline industry to prepare for and respond to the upcoming wave of social and cultural attitude change around our industry, we should be considering two things:

  • the source of the message (engineers and formally-attired executives aren’t the best source of information, we need to use people within the same social stratas to convey the message)
  • create a positive atmosphere around science.

Taking on the second point above, Jay Ingram is the founder/owner of a festival in Calgary called “Beakerhead“, which he describes as ‘a smash-up of art, science, and engineering’.  The point of Beakerhead is to delight people first, with things that are scientific.  The tentacles photo is one example – a delightful art/sculpture, that requires some design and engineering to install.

The idea here is to get the “wow” and then explain the “why”.