Pipeline industry organizes info campaign to prevent ruptures caused by vessels

Two organizations want to provide mariners with information to help them avoid vessel collisions with undersea pipelines.

Coastal and Marine Operators (CAMO) and GulfSafe intend to mitigate risk to mariners and infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico. The groups, which were established by the pipeline industry, are using education and hazard notifications.

They are producing educational DVDs and plan in-person presentations to mariners' groups. CAMO has created a safety checklist for mariners to use in voyage planning near pipelines, and it provides advice on how to react if there is a rupture or grounding.

"The most important thing that a mariner can do (if there's a collision) with a pipeline, whether it is gas or oil, is to immediately note their GPS position so that they can report it to the National Response Center and have the line shut down," said Ed Landgraf, founder of CAMO.

Next the crew needs to determine if the leak is oil or natural gas, which is odorless and dangerous.

"If it is gas, they should ideally shut down the engines and electronics, cell phones and open flames until the pipeline is secured," Landgraf said. "If possible, they should not move — to prevent further damage or risk of explosion."

The checklist is available to download at www.camogroup.org. The list urges mariners to consider draft and tides and identify pipelines on voyage plans. The crew should use current charts. The website also contains mooring advice and vessel evacuation plans.

CAMO includes mariners and companies with pipelines, flow lines or other infrastructure on or below the Gulf sea floor. The group highlights coastal and marine pipeline threats, both natural and manmade, including drill rigs, jack-ups, work boats, spud barges and supply barges.

Beginning in April, CAMO plans to conduct awareness meetings for mariners, free of charge. The goal will be to help them recognize and identify leaks and to improve safety practices. The meetings will also solicit feedback from mariners on the best ways to handle unexpected encounters with a pipeline.

Landgraf said a key component of the program is GulfSafe, a free offshore damage and hazard notification system. GulfSafe operates like land-based phone centers that excavators call to find out if underground utility lines are present.

"A one-call notification system is essential in preventing third-party damage and unauthorized encroachments to coastal and marine pipelines," Landgraf said.

He noted several preventable incidents that occurred in the Gulf in recent years. One involved a spud barge that barely missed a 20-inch oil pipeline carrying 400,000 barrels a day. Surface markers were placed only after a helicopter discovered just how close the barge was to the pipeline.

Other incidents did not have such a happy ending. In May 1997, 5,000 barrels of crude oil were released into Terrebonne Bay when a spud barge struck a pipe. In a similar accident in West Cote Blanche Bay in 2006, six workers were killed.

Data compiled by CAMO from 1987 to 2007 revealed 118 pipeline strikes by either vessels or anchors, along with 25 fatalities and 17 injuries. The environmental impact from those spills was about 100,000 barrels.

Along with CAMO's training initiative, GulfSafe plans to spread the word about the hazards pipelines present to mariners. GulfSafe is producing a 15-minute informational DVD for distribution to industry stakeholders including mariners, port authorities and marine fueling stations. The video will explain how to use the "one-call" system before embarking on a voyage and how to report a leak.

The DVD will be distributed by direct mail to specific vessel operators such as dredge companies. It will be on display at trade shows and through industry associations such as the Offshore Marine Service Association. It will also be available online.

"GulfSafe will also be conducting training sessions for mariners later this year," said Jack Garrett, the company's director of regulatory services.

In conjunction with CAMO, GulfSafe plans to set up the mariner training in several areas in Louisiana this fall and winter, he said.

By Professional Mariner Staff