Preventing Pipeline Failure: Learning From the Past with Root Cause Analysis



Pipeline failures continue to occur as pipeline operators battle an array of issues affecting pipelines: changing conditions, deterioration with time, external factors and – of course – the ‘human’ factor all contribute to pipeline failures.

Preventing a failure starts by identifying potential threats. Doing this with high certainty requires application of quality control and quality assurance at every phase of the life cycle including the pipeline design, pipe manufacturing, pipe installation, pipe operation and pipe maintenance. A systematic failure prevention solution rigorously applied in all lifecycle phases and activities affecting the pipeline will increase integrity within the pipeline system.

In the event that failure still occurs, one must ask, “What can we learn from these failures and could they have been avoided?” Root Cause Analysis (RCA) can identify the issues affecting your asset integrity and provide recommendations for improvement. These observations will reflect the lessons learned from the company for improving the asset reliability, which will allow a corrective action plan to take place.

Basic practices when performing the RCA.

You will want to be sure to only document the facts and steer clear of opinions, allowing the evidence to direct the investigation. Creating a time line of the events leading up to and during the failure will help you get a grasp on key time-frames to focus on. Take the time to document surface conditions at the point of failure and document weather and environmental conditions 24 hours before and after the event has occurred.

Your investigation process should help you realize the answers to these key points:

  1. The events and actions that led to the failure
  2. When, Why, and How the failure occurred
  3. How much could have been prevented
  4. What else was affected

What did we learn and how to apply?

The RCA will not only give insight to a corrective action plan of the failed pipeline, but it will also provide you with practices to apply to current and future pipelines to prevent the same issues from occurring. Once the root cause is discovered, whether it be in the design, during the service, or installation, it is important to see what other areas of your current pipelines are using the same applications. An ECA, Engineering Critical Assessment, can be used during operation to assess flaws and to make decisions as to whether they can safely remain, or if repairs or alterations are necessary. Fatigue improvement techniques can also be applied during service to identify small flaws that survived the proof test, causing failure of a component during its lifetime. Other contributing factors stemming from communication, training and project management issues can be resolved internally through the proper avenues.

Learning from pipeline failures can help you reduce issues from happening again, and therefore should never be passed without conducting a detailed and far-reaching lessons learned exercise that is both applied and shared with the pipeline community. G2 Integrated Solutions provides top-quality Risk & Integrity Management Solutions to prevent and remedy pipeline failure. These include integrity program health assessments, maintenance and repair planning, incident responses and assurance process. Contact us today to see how your pipeline can benefit from our services.