Pipeline industry well equipped for COVID-19 pandemic response

Canada’s pipeline companies have plans to deal with a range of adverse events that go beyond pipeline incidents. They rehearse those plans several times a year. So, the industry is well prepared to respond to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

This week’s blog post is a Q & A with a member of CEPA’s Emergency Management Community of Practice about the pipeline industry’s preparedness for the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Q. Is the pipeline industry prepared to respond to the current COVID-19 pandemic?

 

Pipeline companies have business continuity and emergency response plans so that critical operations can continue despite disruptions. They plan for disruptions that range from severe weather to natural disasters, mass evacuations… and a global pandemic like we are experiencing right now.

CEPA member companies and suppliers understand their role is to provide a critical service and products to customers across the country. They go to great lengths to build and maintain public trust. The approach is robust.

 

Q. What are some of the effects of a pandemic and how is the pipeline industry prepared for the current COVID-19 situation?

 

Beyond the effects to stock markets, a pandemic can threaten the continuity of operations. Companies must have back-up plans to ensure they can continue supplying energy to their customers. The main impact is to human resources – employees can’t get to their jobs, which results in labour shortages.

Companies identify critical functions and put processes in place to keep those going. They identify activities that can stop without impacting the core business. And they can divert resources from those non-essential activities.

Plans would include using secondary locations, secondary teams, or asking cross-trained employees to step in, if needed. Diverse geography is also an advantage because it allows companies to bring staff from less affected areas.

 

Q. How do pipeline companies ensure everyone follows the plan?

 

They engage employees and contractors with those plans on a regular basis. They practice various scenarios many times over the year using drills, table-top sessions and full-scale emergency exercises. The tools and processes must be well known and well rehearsed by all. And, they use lessons learned from normal day-to-day events to build knowledge and increase resiliency.

 

Q. How do pipeline companies cooperate in these situations?

 

CEPA member companies have a mutual emergency assistance agreement (or “MEAA”) in place. If one company needed additional resources, they could reach out to other CEPA members for help.

Some aspects of the industry are competitive. But in adverse situations, whether it’s a pipeline incident or another type of disruption, CEPA member companies come together to resolve common problems and protect the safety of employees and the public.

 

Q. How does the pipeline industry plan for shortages of items that are important to operations?

 

It’s entirely possible that COVID-19 could affect the supply of critical items in the pipeline industry. Pipeline companies plan for this – but they can’t plan independently. Companies that make up the pipeline supply chain must also have their own business continuity plans. And you’ll often see them working together to identify points where plans could fail. That helps both the supplier and the pipeline company determine where they need back-up plans to source critical items.

Residents rely on natural gas and oil to warm their homes during a deep freeze. Many industries rely on oil and natural gas to fuel key elements of their businesses. They expect the pipeline industry to deliver the energy products they need, when they need it. And CEPA members go to great lengths to ensure they’re ready to deliver on that promise.