Holes in pipelines. “If sunlight can get in what can get out?”
Report: PHMSA Documents Reveal Abysmal Inspection of Keystone XL Gulf Coast Segment
March 7, 2014
Documents recently obtained from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the federal regulatory agency tasked with overseeing and inspecting millions of pipelines across the US, show that the Keystone XL Gulf Coast Project has not been adequately inspected.
The inspection documents are available here (see “References” below) for public scrutiny and perusal. For construction and inspection purposes, KXL-South was split into 3 “spreads”. Included below are links to “inspection reports” for each spread, as well as a spreadsheet (no pun intended) listing repairs done on faulty welds on spread 3 (4) and a general welding document listing failed weld rates for various welders of the pipeline. (5)
In what follows, we offer comments on the general nature of the inspection reports, followed by comments on specific noteworthy aspects of them. As we’ll be repeatedly referencing the documents, we encourage you to open them and see them for yourself!
Looking at a typical inspection report (1, 2, 3), you’ll see entry fields for “Date”, “Hours Worked”, “Weather”, “Temp” (low and high), “Owner/Operator”, “Spread” (usually), “Owner”, “Contractor”, and “Observed Activity”. Below these are 3 boxes that establish location, namely “Station #”, GPS location, and approximate MP (mile post). And below that is an open space for comments. Finally, below this space is (sometimes) a line for the inspector’s name and signature.
That’s pretty much all there is to these inspection reports. PHMSA apparently sees measurements such as the day’s weather as more meaningful than measurements that actually establish code compliance during pipeline construction. And in these documents, a lot of the useful information isn’t even there. Looking at the boxes that establish location, you’ll notice that they’re almost never filled out in any of these inspection reports. Spread 2 has at least a few mile post markers listed here and there, but Spreads 1 & 3 are virtually devoid of any useful geographical data. So what good are these inspection reports if they can’t be meaningfully tied to where they were done?
The most substantial section of these reports (and calling them substantial is giving PHMSA a lot of credit) is the comments section, but this section is embarrassing, too. Looking through the comments, they read like “we did this”, “we saw that”, “we came to inspect but it was raining so people weren’t doing anything”, “I warned them that so-and-so was unsafe”. There’s sadly a grade-school level of rigor in these reports… save for some technical jargon here and there, one couldn’t be too blamed if these inspection reports were confused with the hypothetical journal entries of middle-school students visiting a pipeline construction easement on a field-trip. One of our favorite examples is below.
“Escorted Mr. Butters back to Dallas.”
In short, these documents completely lack the technical rigor one would expect in adequate inspection reports, and actually read more like the inspectors’ diary entries than anything that would actually leave the public confident that PHMSA’s doing its job. Are these really the documents that PHMSA will present to a court to defend itself from scrutiny should Keystone South spill?
Lousy Inspection Habits
Our observations of comments in these reports reveal tendencies ranging from disturbing to downright alarming. They show that inspectors are often on-site not really doing anything useful or relevant to being on-site, inspectors offering passive advice concerning code violations rather than actively enforcing them and holding pipeline constructors accountable, and alarming negligence when faced with construction failures.
You’ll notice a few of the comments in these reports indicate that the because the site was rained out, workers were mostly not doing anything, so there was nothing to inspect. On page 3 of Spread 2, the inspector indicates that they went out, saw that most activities were stopped due to rain, had a few conversations, and then went to another site and also noticed that activities were stopped due to rain. This inspector recorded 12 “hours worked” essentially for chit-chatting and for “escorting Mr. Butters back to Dallas”. Uhh… really? On page 6 of Spread 3, all the inspector had to say was “Conditions were very muddy and wet. Could not get around some areas due to getting stuck.” Great job!
Terrifying. Visible holes in pipes made for Keystone XL. Guess too much money is going to the heads instead of safety.