Navigating Safely Around Underwater Pipelines

camo
This tug strike on a pipeline resulted in one fatality (file image courtesy CAMO)

By Ed Landgraf 2017-07-17 14:40:27

There are more than 50,000 miles of hydrocarbon pipelines spanning the five Gulf states' inland waters, rivers, bays, lakes, coastal areas and the Gulf of Mexico continental shelf. With more pipelines being built every day and more boats on the waters, the chance of your vessel coming into contact with a pipeline is growing. Accidental interactions and incidents have caused spills, gas releases, injuries and even deaths. This article provides valuable information on underwater pipeline safety. It should be reviewed by all mariners in the Gulf region and kept in a readily available place. 

Navigation in Offshore Waters

  • - Applies to Federal waters outside of states’ boundaries.

  • - Types of activity or vessels: anchoring of all types, jack-up boats, spud and lay barges, ships, site clearance, seafloor exploration activities, seafloor contact of commercial fishing gear, platform installations, abandonments etc.

  • - Many offshore pipelines are not buried and lay on the seafloor, open to damage.

  • - Any offshore activity within a 1500 feet of a pipeline needs to be reported and planned at least 1 weeks prior. This will lessen your liability if an incident occurs.

  • - Report your activity to pipeline companies. It’s FREE - call Gulfsafe 888-910-4853 (888GULFSAFE) or Call 811. This will lessen your liability if an incident occurs.

  • - Get a safe to work acknowledgment or crossing agreement from the pipeline company.

  • - Pipeline companies may choose to send spotter during your activities.

  • - It is recommended that ANY force over 150 lbs. that is going to touch the seafloor or can contact a pipeline be reported prior to activity to avoid injury to mariners, pipeline damage and protect the environment.

  • - NOTE: Not ALL pipelines or sub- sea flow lines may be registered in the FREE call notification systems

Navigating in Inland and Coastal Waters

  • - All waters within state boundaries including rivers, lakes, bayous and bays. 

  • - Types of activities or vessels: dredging, spud barges, jack-up boats, tug boats and barges, heavy anchoring, seafloor contact of commercial fishing gear, large vessels, site clearance, pile driving, boring, wheel washing, installation and removal of marine structures, etc.

  • - Any inland or coastal waters activity within 250 feet of a pipeline needs to be reported and planned directly with the pipeline company to get a safe to work acknowledgment or crossing agreement

  • - Report your activity at least two business days prior.  It’s FREE - Call 811 or call Gulfsafe 888-910-4853 (888GULFSAFE). This is the law in many states and will lessen your liability if an incident occurs.

  • - If you suspect damage to a pipeline, many state laws require that it must be reported by calling 811

  • - It is recommended that ANY force over 150 lbs. that is going to touch the water bottom or can contact a pipeline be reported prior, to avoid injury to mariners, pipeline damage and protect the environment

  • - Use only approved anchorage and mooring areas

How to Avoid Pipelines and Communicate with Pipeline Companies

  • - Call 811 or Gulfsafe 888-910-4853 (888GULFSAFE) before starting your work. This one free call will notify most pipeline companies and reduce your liability if an incident occurs. In many states “Call Before You Dig Laws” apply specifically to marine environments like they do on land.

  • - NOTE: Electric, Fiber-Optic, Water, Phone, Cable, Gas lines also run underwater and the same guidelines to prevent marine damage apply.

  • - Make a voyage plan with route and stopping points. Reference maps, identify and plan for pipeline avoidance. Have a response plan if a pipeline is struck and share with crew.

  • - Plan to avoid shallow water depths and account for low tide levels

  • - Confirm a minimum of 3 feet of clearance below the vessels’ draft for safe passage over pipelines.

  • - Ask pipeline company to have a representative onsite before any activity begins within 1500 feet offshore and 250 feet for inland and coastal waters pipelines.

  • - Look for “Pipeline Warning” or “Do not Anchor or Dredge” signs or markers on the banks or in waterways. They usually have the company name and emergency contact number. In these areas water bottom contact must be avoided.

Understand the signs of a Pipeline Leak

  • - A continuous bubbling, blowing or hissing sound coming from the water.

  • - A rainbow sheen or unusual color, oily residue, or hydrocarbon (gaseous) smell on the water’s surface.

Act immediately if you suspect a leak

  • - Shutdown or minimize the use of all potential ignition sources like motors, lights, etc. (if possible drift out of the area before starting a motor or ignition source)

  • - Evaluate the situation, record your exact location and move upwind at least one quarter mile away from the affected area. When safe call 911, National Response Center 800-424-8802 and radio the Coast Guard.

  • - Prevent and warn other vessels from entering the area.

  • - If you see a pipeline sign call the emergency number listed.

Emergency Response - Pipeline emergencies on the water pose different challenges than events on land

  • - Reaching the scene can take much longer.

  • - Get the coordinates of the incident and plan your entry route.

  • - Natural gas maybe odorless – have a gas detector on hand when approaching an incident area, entering upwind.

  • - Do not try and extinguish a fire on the water unless personal safety is an issue.

  • - Boom off and secure the leak area as soon as possible.

  • - Communicate directly with the pipeline company to isolate the source.

Include pipelines in your voyage plan, and know what’s below before you go!

Ed Landgraf is the chairman of Coastal And Marine Operators (CAMO), a pipeline industry organizationThis safety message is brought to you by CAMO, Gulf Safe and 811 Call Before You Dig. As a non-profit organization, CAMO marine pipeline safety information is available free-of-charge. Send us your comments or email questions to info@camogroup.org. More information can be found at www.camogroup.orgwww.gulfsafe.org and www.call811.com

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.

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