Pipelines in your community: Why we should be talking about safety

International Pipeline Conference 2014

The Pipeline Executive Leadership panel at the 2014 International Pipeline Conference: (Left to right) Alan Armstrong, Tim Felt, Ron McClain, Alex Pourbaix and moderator Patrick Veith.

Pipelines crisscross much of the globe to deliver petroleum products to the world’s growing population. In Canada alone, CEPA’s members operate approximately 115,000 kilometres of pipeline. These energy highways are critical infrastructure, but if there is a pipeline near your community, you have a right to know that the line is safe.

“We should be accountable (to the public) for our performance,” said Tim Felt, president and CEO of Colonial Pipeline, a company that transports petroleum products for the U.S. military.

Felt was one of the participants in the Pipeline Executive Leadership panel at the International Pipeline Conference in Calgary. The four-person panel on “Challenging Pipeline Performance” discussed how pipeline operators can earn the trust of the communities where they operate.

Public safety and pipelines: Getting out the facts 

Alex Pourbaix, president of development and executive vice president of TransCanada PipeLines Limited, was another one of the participants in the panel, along with Ron McClain, president of products pipelines with Kinder Morgan, and Alan Armstrong, president and CEO of The Williams Companies, Inc.

Pourbaix stressed that in order to build trust, companies need to get into communities to talk about what they are doing to protect public safety when a new pipeline is proposed.

“On some of the major projects, we’ve literally had hundreds of townhalls (and) thousands of conversations with landowners and affected people,” said Pourbaix, who is also the chair of CEPA’s board of directors.

Companies shouldn’t just talk; they need to listen

In addition to getting the facts out about a proposed pipeline, Pourbaix explained that to build trust companies need to really listen to what people have to say about a project.

“Often the people in these communities have some really good ideas, and proving that you are listening to them and you are willing to make some changes and respond to some of those concerns, it’s amazing what it does to the trust equation,” said Pourbaix.

Knowledge is power

It is no secret that pipeline operators face opponents who sometimes disseminate misinformation about the safety of pipelines. Pourbaix has learned that to counter opponents, companies need to identify public concerns and visit communities early and regularly to provide information.

It’s constant communication, it’s getting the facts out early (and) really listening.

“My experience is: If you get in first, and you get the facts and the truth out, and you do it in a very humble, forthright way, it’s very, very difficult for the opponents after that to come in and turn around that public sentiment. It’s constant communication, it’s getting the facts out early (and) really listening,” said Pourbaix.

What about performance?

Communication is a big part of earning the public’s trust, but the actual performance of pipelines is just as important. It is not enough for a company to say they are operating safely. They need to prove it. Check CEPA’s blog over the next few weeks for posts on what the pipeline industry and regulators are doing to build a safety culture.

This is the first post in a four-part series based on information shared at the International Pipeline Conference in Calgary from Sept. 29 – Oct. 3. Over 1,400 pipeline professionals from around the world attended the conference.

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 115,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2013, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Our members transport 97 per cent of Canada’s daily natural gas and onshore crude oil from producing regions to markets throughout North America.