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Inspection: Gasoline pipeline inspection failed to find flaw, avert leak

Posted on 04.01.2004 - 06:24 EST in INSPECTION NEWS (Topside) by ginamc

An inspection completed a month before Kinder Morgan's Tucson-to-Phoenix pipeline burst indicated no structural defects in the line but faulted the company for inadequate corrosion control, operations and maintenance procedures.

The inspection of Kinder Morgan Energy Partners' Arizona gasoline pipelines and storage facilities was conducted from June 16 to 27 by...

the Arizona Corporation Commission, acting as the agent for the federal Office of Pipeline Safety. It was the first comprehensive inspection of the line since 1999.

Although the commission's inspectors found seven probable violations of pipeline safety codes, the federal agency, which has the final authority to process violations, elected to take action on only two. The two violations involved matters of procedure. The rest either were resolved directly with Kinder Morgan or deemed to be unfounded.

Although inadequate corrosion control was cited by the Corporation Commission, the main issue was the failure to properly inspect the system of protective electrical current running on the line, not any threat of breakage.

The inspection process, though designed with safety in mind, in all likelihood would not detect a rupture about to happen. The June inspection involved field inspection of several segments of the line, plus a review of operations, maintenance and emergency manuals and other records.

Inspection of underground pipelines remains an inexact science because it would be extremely costly to dig up the line or internally inspect every mile of Kinder Morgan's 671 miles of pipelines in Arizona. The Corporation Commission report was submitted to the Office of Pipeline Safety, which reviewed it and ruled on its findings Dec. 9. The report was released this week after The Arizona Republic requested the public record.

The pipeline burst on July 30, causing a severe gas shortage in metropolitan Phoenix that lasted several weeks. A special task force, appointed by Gov. Janet Napolitano, is looking into whether more aggressive maintenance and more frequent inspections could have prevented the break.

Heather Murphy, a Corporation Commission spokeswoman, said the agency hasn't determined whether it will appeal the ruling.

"While our inspectors want to see companies comply with regulations, they also want to see regulations changed if they don't go far enough," she said.

The Office of Pipeline Safety agreed with the Corporation Commission that Kinder Morgan lacked a required procedure for testing its pipeline for leaks after construction blasting took place near the line, and issued a "notice of amendment," the agency's more lenient enforcement action. The Arizona inspectors had suggested more severe enforcement.

The federal agency also agreed with commission's determination that Kinder Morgan lacked a required procedure to periodically review operation and maintenance practices and correct deficiencies. Again, a notice of amendment was issued.

Other violations dismissed by the federal office include claims that the company did not periodically review its operations and maintenance manuals and that it didn't provide contact information for state agencies that must be notified in the event of an emergency.

The Office of Pipeline Safety's dismissal of many of the commission's claims reflects a tradition of conflict between the two agencies that both sides aim to correct.

In November, the federal agency dismissed a $50,000 fine proposed by commission investigators in 2001 against Kinder Morgan for failing to adequately protect the pipeline against corrosion.

Inadequate corrosion control also was cited in the 2003 inspection. The 2003 violation also was dismissed because the federal agency disagreed with the state's interpretation of the law.

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