This is a concept that might be hard to agree with. Especially since engineers are generally tasked with preventing failure.
What we’re trying to address here is the idea that engineers should consider failure is ‘normal’, so that then we do everything we can to prevent it.
The email sent by APGA on Monday 16 May included dates for the bridge failures which weren’t quite correct. (“the Quebec Bridge in 1915 and the West Gate Bridge the late 1960s“).
Mea culpa, the ad copy I sent was an incoherent hybridised version of the dates … which was just confusing, for those paying attention.
Here’s the real story:
The Quebec Bridge actually failed twice during construction, first in 1907… and then again in 1916 when they were trying to rebuild it!
The West Gate Bridge was of the innovative box girder design, and in the time period 1969 to 1973, there were at least four failures of box girder bridges during construction around the world. The design was so innovative that the bridges were failing faster than the design engineers could improve the design!
Tune in on June 15 to learn more about why building bridges is a challenge and what lessons we can still learn today from those events. And, how the failure themes on these bridges might apply to pipeline engineering, or, just being a conscientious professional engineer in whatever work you are doing.
One of the difficult things about being an engineer (…besides everything you’ve just thought of…) is being able to recognise your own competency.
Knowing your own competency is essential, especially in high-risk industries like pipelines and other potentially hazardous industries. Similarly, knowing the competency of the others around you is essential too.
Not often contemplated is that there are two kinds of competencies: knowledge, and behavioural competencies.
A person can be very competent in knowledge, but behave terribly: unethically and without principles. That makes the knowledge, while useful, perhaps less value. On the other hand, you can have an ethical, principled person who keeps making mistakes. Neither is a good situation.
The contents of pipelines are, more often than not, flowing under pressure. A factor in the design and operation of pipelines, is whether it is designed to operate at “high” pressure or “low” pressure. The lines into our houses operate at a very low pressure. The cross-country transmission lines flow at a high pressure.
Those of us who work with pipelines are also, often, under pressure. Sometimes low pressure, and sometimes high pressure. There are budgets, schedules, compliance, and safety issues to face.
It’s a pressure we are proud to bear: we are serving society and responding to customer needs. But often we’re faced with difficult situation and scenarios, that test our principles, test our ability to handle the pressure.
There’s now a reference resource to help. The Australian Pipeline and Gas Association (APGA), in conjunction with the Future Fuels Cooperative Research Centre (FFCRC), have published a guidance document to help with the scenarios we face. It was put together by a group of industry leaders – many of whom are part of this AS2885.info wiki and blog.
Many years ago, when I had been working as a pipeline engineer for about 10 years, I started asking the question of people around me, “just what is a pipeline engineer?”.
In asking the question, I wanted to understand what was meant when they asked for a pipeline engineer… what were the expectations?
I wasn’t really sure if I really was one, even if my business card gave me that title.
Not because I didn’t know what I was doing, but because I was doing so many different tasks and roles on so many (pipeline) projects.
Pipeline engineering isn’t an established engineering discipline, not like the traditional disciplines such as civil or mechanical engineering.
Pipeline engineering is a combination of all the engineering disciplines, as well as land management, environmental studies, sociology, and economics. The most ambiguous statement you can make is, “I need a pipeline engineer for this”. You’ll need to be more specific than that.
And then there are the project engineers who are (sometimes) working on a long-distance, large-diameter pipeline project. It’s not a full time gig as a pipeline engineer, but suddenly you’re a project engineer on a pipeline project, and there’s a need to know all kinds of things about cross-country pipelines … even if your last project was a wind farm, or an offshore platform, or the process piping in a fenced-off industrial plant. Is being a project engineer on a few pipeline projects enough to make you a pipeline engineer? Do you need to “be” a pipeline engineer to work on a pipeline project? What’s the minimum a project engineer on a pipeline project needs to know?
All good questions.
So, at the moment, never mind: welcome to the pipeline engineers here, and the project engineers working on a pipeline project, and the land agents and the environmental managers, and the corrosion specialists and the designers and the operators and cost estimators and the construction engineers. Maybe we’re all just pipeliners in the end.
This blog, and the associated wiki (AS2885.info) are here to make the journey a little easier, especially when it comes to using and interpreting the masterpiece that is AS2885 (laying it on a little thick maybe).
By the way, you might be a pipeliner if you:
– know the difference between piping and a pipeline
– have a sticker that announces “I heart pipelines”
– have stood in a paddock looking around and towards the horizon
– know what the dope gang, pig launcher/receiver, scraper station, and joints are
– have a picture on your phone of a really steep slope. Bonus points if there’s a sideboom in the photo too
– miss the heady days of the expansion of 2010-2015 (that one’s Australia-specific)
– can’t help but notice the “Danger- Pipeline” signs when you’re out driving
– know there’s more to pipelines than you’ll ever know
Working with pipelines
Those of us who work with pipelines, pipeline engineer or not, understand that those pipelines go through other people’s backyards, public places, and where most of the population doesn’t know they are there.
The ‘people’ working with pipelines could be engineers, technicians, lawyers, construction workers, administrative staff, and so on. We, the pipeline people, have responsibilities to the public.
Other people’s backyard: that means the public. The ‘innocent bystander’.
They don’t do a hazard analysis or risk assessment before stepping out their front door to walk the dog.
We have a deep ethical requirement to consider public safety in our work. The goal every day is that ‘nothing happens’.
Our pipelines are safe and are basically invisible to the public. And they should stay that way.
Pipelines are buried out of sight and out of mind.
They crisscross our cities and farmlands and deserts. They carry energy or water or slurries or other liquids and gases from source to destination.
Pipelines transporting energy have had a stellar century, with millions of kilometers of pipelines now installed all over the world. While this may be a time of uncertainty, those millions of kilometers still need to be operated safely for the foreseeable future.
Designing, building, or operating a pipeline should be straightforward: dig a trench and put the pipe in it and let the contents flow, right? And yet it is much more complex than that.
The Pipeline Engineering Competency System (PECS) has been developed by industry volunteers, for new and even not-so-new players in the industry. The system describes about 240 competencies that a pipeline engineer might want to have. The details are available on the APGA website.
Here on the AS2885 blog, it is a great opportunity to introduce some of the more important competencies, and also to show the links between the competency and the parts or clauses of AS2885 where the knowledge is used. And even better – tie the knowledge buried in the competencies to stories and experiences and lessons learnt by others.
Stay tuned for the next little while and learn something new, or remind yourself about something you thought you knew…