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Pipeline Safety

Important documents:


Background information and current status:

Accidents on international pipelines endanger human lives and the environment, cause serious revenue losses and generate a climate of public hostility towards pipelines. Meanwhile, if designed, constructed and maintained according to the proper norms and standards, pipelines can be one of the most efficient and environmentally friendly means of energy transportation and distribution.

A sectoral initiative aimed at developing a common regulatory basis in this sector was formally proposed in 2007. At the request of the Working Party (see para. 62 of the report of the 2008 session) a questionnaire has been developed by the interested delegations. The questionnaire was answered by Belarus, Brazil, Canada, Kazakhstan and Turkey. The purpose of the questionnaire is to document existing regulatory practices in this field. The questionnaire and compiled answers were discussed by the Bureau of the Working Party (see para. 5 of the report) and have been presented to the WP. 6 19th session.

The initiative was formally established in 2009 and is based on Recommendation L. SIPS identifies best regulatory practices in technical regulations concerning project design, construction, testing, use of materials, operation, maintenance, conservation and utilization of pipelines for oil and gas industry products. The initiative could capitalize on: (a) an advanced set of 177 international standards already developed by the Technical Committee 67 (TC67) of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to address specific technical issues related to pipeline safety; and (b) the UNECE expertise in administering the 1992 Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents, which resulted inter alia in the formulation of Safety Guidelines and Good Practices for Pipelines for the Prevention of Accidental Water Pollution.

The key points of this initiative, highlighted in particular by the Russian Federation's Service on Ecological, Technological and Nuclear Supervision, are the need to coordinate mandatory requirements for industrial and ecological safety, and to harmonize national approaches to safety regulations.

All interested parties are encouraged to contact Working Party 6 at regulatory.cooperation@un.org if they wish to join the preparatory work for this initiative or receive further information or updates on its progress.

SAFETY GUIDELINES/GOOD PRACTICES FOR PIPELINES

Pipelines are increasingly important as a means of transport of large volumes of hazardous substances over long distances in the UNECE region. Crude oil, its derivatives and natural gas are dominant among the substances transported by region’s pipelines. In May 2005, the region’s newest oil pipeline was commissioned. It is a 1,600 kilometer pipeline from Baku through Georgia to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, which makes the Caspian See crude more accessible.

If well constructed, carefully monitored and properly attended, pipelines can be a safe, environmentally sound and economic means of transport. However, like fixed installations handling hazardous substances, they may be a serious threat to our health and our environment.

The effects of accidents involving pipelines are often very significant. External interference, corrosion and poor maintenance are among the most common causes of pipeline accidents in the UNECE region. Those involving petroleum products can have a devastating effect on the soil and water. The severe pipeline leak of some 100,000 tons of oil in the Komi Republic, in the Russian Federation, in 1994 was one of the region’s most severe environmental disasters. Accidents involving gas often result in loss of human lives as was demonstrated by a 2004 gas pipeline accident in Ghiselenghein, Belgium, which resulted in 20 fatalities and 130 wounded.

Although pipelines are operated with increasing care, in view of many UNECE countries, the safety of pipeline operation needs further improvement. There is a need to raise awareness and share experience and good practices among the competent authorities, operators and the public. There is also room for harmonization across the UNECE region, regulations and requirements concerning the safety of pipeline operation differ from country to country.

Against this background, UNECE countries decided to draw up safety guidelines/good practices for pipelines under the auspices of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents and the Meeting of the Parties to the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes.

A steering group drew up the draft guidelines on behalf of the Joint Expert Group (JEG) on water and industrial accidents, a body under the auspices of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents and the Meeting of the Parties to the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes. In drawing up this document, the steering group took into account, among others, the input of authorities, pipeline operators and the non-governmental organizations made at two workshops: (i) on the prevention of water pollution due to pipeline accidents (Berlin, 8-9 June 2005); and (ii) on the prevention of accidents of gas transimssion pipelines (The Hague, 8-9 March 2006). The draft document was submitted to the governing bodies of both Conventions and endorsed by them.