Updated June 2022
At the AER, we are responsible for ensuring companies develop Alberta’s resources safely and responsibly. This responsibility includes holding companies accountable for their performance and helping companies improve.
We take the following actions to improve pipeline performance:
- inspect construction to verify proper practices were used
- educate operators about our requirements, industry best practices, and emerging issues
- review every pipeline incident to verify if a company correctly determined the cause and if they followed our pipeline requirements (i.e., compliance)
- investigate every incident to understand its causes so that we can work towards improving pipeline performance and prevent future incidents
- identify areas for improvement in the company's safety and loss management system and pipeline integrity management programs
We analyze data on pipeline incidents to identify trends and use what we learn to educate companies during pipeline inspections and by sharing information at conferences and operator awareness sessions and through publications, including the following bulletins:
- Bulletin 2016-22 was issued because of several pipeline incidents where improper leak detection was a significant contributing factor. We provided recommendations around leak detection programs for oil-well effluent and produced water pipelines.
- Bulletin 2019-28 was issued in response to a slight increase in the number of pipeline failures in 2019 from earth moving on unstable slopes. We reminded companies that they must consider natural hazards in their pipeline integrity management programs. The release of Bulletin 2019 28 resulted in several companies proactively identifying potential earth movement problems and taking preventive actions to mitigate the risks.
- Bulletin 2021-36 was issued because of an increase in incidents from stress corrosion cracking on high-temperature carbon steel surface pipelines. We reminded licensees to consider stress corrosion cracking as part of their integrity management programs. We made several recommendations for licensees: conduct engineering assessments to determine if their pipelines would be susceptible to failure, inspect pipelines that may be at risk, evaluate and repair potential defects, review leak detection programs, and continue to report leaks and rupture incidents.
Companies must have a pipeline safety and loss management system (SLMS) that includes corporate policies and processes to manage pipeline operating risks relating to the public, the environment, the company and its employees, and property (including the licensee’s property and public and landowner property). An SLMS guides the reliable operation and understanding of a company’s pipeline assets. The goal of an SLMS is to manage all areas of risk and direct all activities associated with the safe operation of pipelines. The SLMS enables and requires the implementation of risk assessments and integrity management plans for all pipeline assets. The SLMS includes the following elements:
- risk management (hazard identification and mitigation) and other risk management processes such as leak detection
- integrity management programs, including planning and oversight for preventive maintenance, hydrotechnical and geotechnical programs, leak detection and inactive pipelines
- operation and maintenance procedures that are safe, effective, and relevant and have been implemented to support the company’s integrity management programs
- corporate policies, including data retention, training, and continuous improvement initiatives
Risk management is the identification, evaluation, and prioritization of potential hazards and threats to a company’s pipeline system. Companies are required to use this information to effectively allocate and plan resources to monitor, reduce, and control the probability or impact of a potential incident.
Integrity management programs represent specific plans a company uses within an operating area or for specific pipelines. These programs address known threats and potential risks identified in the company’s risk assessments. They may include specific operational and maintenance procedures for an individual pipeline or a pipeline system, depending on the risk.
Companies must develop and maintain an effective leak detection program tailored to their specific pipeline system and based on assessed risks. Such a program may include aerial or ground surveillance of the pipeline right-of-way using visual detection, gas detection, thermographic surveys, or vegetation surveys that look for signs of leaks or other hazards. Other surveillance methods include volume monitoring and pressure sensing to collect data on pressure and flow. Emergency response plans are also required to manage an emergency.
Operation and maintenance procedures are step-by-step actions for performing specific tasks related to the operation of pipeline assets. For example, how to pig a pipeline would include all activities from checking pig sizing and conditions before pigging to assessing the condition of pig senders and receivers and addressing potential upset conditions during pigging. Operational procedures standardize activities that effectively and reliably control hazards associated with the operation of the pipeline and reduce operating risk.
We will continue to explore opportunities to improve our annual pipeline performance report, such as expanding the range of data that can be compared or broadening the information provided about incidents, including contributing factors.