In this episode of the Pipeliners Podcast, Jim Schauer of Energy Worldnet (EWN) joins to discuss Operator Qualifications (OQ) and record-keeping in the pipeline industry.
This episode explores the challenges faced by auditors and inspectors, emphasizing the industry’s move towards electronic, cloud-based systems for real-time tracking of OQs. Additionally, this episode also covers the complexities of Abnormal Operating Conditions (AOCs) and the need for continuous improvement in safety and compliance practices.
Operator Qualification and Record Keeping Show Notes, Links and Insider Terms
- Jim “Jimmy” Schauer serves as the Vice President, at Energy Worldnet, Inc, and is also co-host of the award-winning energy focus podcast Coffee with Jim & James. Connect with Jim on LinkedIn.
- Energy Worldnet (EWN) delivers real solutions for Operator Qualification, Workforce and Data Management, Safety and OSHA Training, Compliance Services, and PSMS for the Pipeline industry.
- AGA (American Gas Association) represents companies delivering natural gas safely, reliably, and in an environmentally responsible way to help improve the quality of life for their customers every day. AGA’s mission is to provide clear value to its membership and serve as the indispensable, leading voice and facilitator on its behalf in promoting the safe, reliable, and efficient delivery of natural gas to homes and businesses across the nation.
- The annual AGA Operations Conference is the natural gas industry’s largest gathering of natural gas utility and transmission company operations management from across North America and the world. During the conference, participants share technical knowledge, ideas, and practices to promote the safe, reliable, and cost-effective delivery of natural gas to the end-user.
- Operational Qualification (OQ) involves testing the equipment to confirm that it operates as intended, within operating ranges approved by the manufacturer. This process must be performed after installation, significant maintenance or modifications, or as part of scheduled quality assurance testing.
- OQ (The Operator Qualification Rule) refers to the 49 CFR Parts 192 and 195 requirements for pipeline operators to develop a qualification program to evaluate an individual’s ability to react to abnormal operating conditions (AOCs) that may occur while performing tasks.
- ASME B31Q refers to the Pipeline Personnel Qualification standard. Find more information on this topic at ASME.org.
- AOC (Abnormal Operating Condition) is defined by the 49 CFR Subpart 195.503 and 192.803 as a condition identified by a pipeline operator that may indicate a malfunction of a component or deviation from normal operations that may indicate a condition exceeding design limits or result in a hazard(s) to persons, property, or the environment.
- DCA (Distribution Contractors Association) is a member-centered association where members participate in a variety of committees and annual activities that ultimately benefit the entire distribution industry.
- OQ Integrity Process (OQIP) refers to the industry program that strives for a universal approach to meet the PHMSA Operator Qualification Expectations, as developed and created by the industry’s OQ Integrity Coalition. Find more information at OQIP.org.
- Computer-Based Training (CBT) is a method of training that uses a computer or computer software to train a large group of individuals on a specific task.
- API 1173established the framework for operators to implement Pipeline Safety Management Systems. The PSMS standard includes 10 core elements. The API Energy Excellence Program followed this model to establish its 13 core elements.
- Pipeline SMS (Pipeline Safety Management Systems) or PSMS is an industry-wide focus to improve pipeline safety, driving toward zero incidents.
Operator Qualification and Record Keeping Full Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to the “Pipeliners Podcast,” Episode 316, sponsored by EnerSys Corporation, providers of POEMS, the Pipeline Operations Excellence Management System, compliance and operations software for the Pipeline Control Center to address control room management, SCADA, and audit readiness.
Find out more about POEMS at EnerSysCorp.com.
Announcer: The Pipeliners Podcast, where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations.
Now your host, Russel Treat.
Russel: Thanks for listening to the podcast. I appreciate you taking the time. To show the appreciation, we give away a customized YETI tumbler every episode. This week, our winner is Dan Cerkoney – I hope I said that last name correctly – with TC Energy. To learn how you can win this signature prize, stick around till the end of the episode.
This week we speak to Jim Schauer, with Energy Worldnet, to talk about operator qualification and record keeping. Jim, Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast.
Jim Schauer: It is great. Wait, let me say this. It is a real “treat” to be here today.
Russel: I’m so surprised. Nobody’s ever said that before. You are the first, so congratulations and kudos.
Jim: You gotta be kidding.
Russel: 300 plus episodes, and you’re the first to introduce yourself that way.
Jim: I love it, Russel.
Russel: That’s perfect. That’s perfect. Jim, you’re an old salt of a podcaster. You’ve been doing this for a while. Anyways, just quickly, why don’t you tell people who you are, who you’re with, and maybe tell people a little bit about your podcast?
Jim: Absolutely. Jim Schauer, I work for the energy industry, that’s what I always tell people first and foremost. I’ve been at it just under 25 years, and proud to be part of the industry.
I actually officially work for Energy Worldnet. I’ve been with Energy Worldnet now for five years. Enjoy my roles and responsibly with them. I’m currently vice president at Energy Worldnet.
Again, and I’m not joking, Russel, I do tell people that I work for the industry because anything that we can do to bring better practices, safety initiatives, all of it to the industry, that’s what we do.
That’s how the podcast actually started. We started it during COVID. It was more so of a release for James and I to just stay connected to the industry. Between James and I, we probably averaged 20 plus events a year where we would go and speak or present or whatever.
Then we got locked down. We started doing things on our phone, just as a stopgap because back in early 2020, that COVID was going to last maybe six or eight weeks. We figured out a few weeks to get through it. Lo and behold, it took off, and we’re entering our fifth season next year.
Russel: Yeah. It’s interesting. Once you get this ball rolling, it’s amazing where it takes you. It’s certainly been quite the journey for me in terms of all the people I’ve met and the conversations I’ve had, and the things I’ve learned. It’s been an absolute joy, frankly.
Jim: I would agree with you. It’s absolutely a privilege and a pleasure to be able to do it for the industry. That’s really where AGA 2021 in Orlando is where you and I and James got together because we’re in the same aisle, or one aisle apart. We’re both doing our podcasts there.
We’re fortunate enough to be on yours. You were fortunate to be on ours and vice versa. It took off from there. Again, anything that we can do to the industry, as I said to bring positivity, best practices, anything safety, that’s been our mission on “Coffee with Jim & James.”
Russel: My mission has been education through conversation. The whole idea when I started it was there’s a whole lot of very vertical, very technical disciplines within pipelining. What I wanted to do is capture information about all of them. I’m 300 episodes in, and I would say I’m beginning to get the crust off the biscuit, and we still need to eat the whole biscuit.
Jim: Well, it takes a while. It’s fun. Us too, we hit our groove. The first year was completely awkward, foreign to us, reading things off of a script or a piece of paper or whatever. Then year two got better.
Then year three and four, we just said to ourselves, we leaned into it and said, “The industry knows, likes, respects us for who we are. That’s what we have to be at the podcasts, just be ourselves.” Just like coming on here today, zero prep. I don’t mean that as a way of downplaying this by any means.
I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of weeks, joining today. I’ve been very excited about it. I didn’t want to prepare anything because I wanted the conversation to be organic and real.
Russel: I tell people all the time that this is driven by my curiosity and your knowledge and expertise.
Jim: There we go.
Russel: I have loads of curiosity. Well, look, I asked you to come on, and this will be a little different for you, but I’ve asked you to come on to be the guest on the podcast and to talk about OQ and record keeping.
In particular, the reason I wanted to talk about that is I sat into the AGA Field Operations Committee meetings back in the fall, and there was a lot of conversation going on in there about OQ, and in particular, OQ and record keeping.
To tee this off, what I’d like to do is ask auditors and inspectors, what are they asking for these days when it comes to OQ records when they’re doing their audits?
Jim: The two words that come to my mind, first and foremost, Russel, are tracking and traceability. It’s a key to, unfortunately, think about it, that if you and I were out on a right away today doing a project, putting pipe down Main Street, USA, it’s real easy for an inspector to come by and say, “I want to make sure that you, Russel, you, Jimmy, you guys know what you’re doing. Show me your OQs.”
In years past, that could have been, and again, this has been around for just under two decades, the OQ rule, could’ve been a piece of paper, etc., something like that. Now they’re getting a little bit more, and rightfully so, into what exactly you and I have the knowledge, skills, and ability on.
We should be able to prove that, and prove it real time because, lo and behold, as we know, a piece of paper is only as good as the day it was printed on. Now with OQ rules, like at Energy Worldnet, we are very much proud to say, “No paper. All cloud based.”
Our questions, that when somebody should be asked something on a job site, they can pull up a smart device, Android, Apple, whatever it is, and show an inspector as of right then and there, that day, that time frame, what yours or what my, what we have the knowledge, skills, and ability on and that we are “OQ’d on.” That’s really important for that.
Russel: I think that’s right. Some of the conversations that were occurring in the field ops meeting were around, “Who is the qualified individual on a crew?” Different companies were having different perspectives of, “This is my takeaway about who was the qualified individual.”
Is it the crew boss that’s the qualified individual? Is it the person working the shovel that’s the qualified individual? How does all that go together? What level of qualification do you need for these different roles because it’s not as simple as, “I need to be qualified to be on this job,” I guess, is what I’m getting at.
Jim: We could unpack this baggage and go into it because then we start to get into span of control, meaning that is it acceptable for the crew superintendent to be “qualified” and watching everybody? Then the three, four, five technicians, utility workers, whatever we want to call them, are maybe not qualified in that but they’re being supervised.
It’s very different. There isn’t a hard and fast rule in that. It does go back to the span of control, and there’s a lot of talks about that. It goes into both the OQ as well as, at Energy Worldnet, we also deal with manufacturer certifications.
I’m going to open up something here. The OQs, again, as we all know, or maybe we don’t know, but those are operator qualifications. An operator, i.e. a major gas utility company, will set their OQs for all their employees as well as their contractors.
We should get into the contractors. I’m sure you’re going to go there in a bit, but it’s up to them to set what those are. They can also say, “If we’re going to be using a product or a solution that is driven by a manufacturer, we might have to follow those manufacturer guidelines,” so they would use a certification.
Somebody on a job site, depending on what they’re doing, could be the need of the “OQ,” as well as certified from the manufacturer. Those could be span of control. It could be one to one. It could be one to zero. There could be so many different variances depending on what people choose in that.
Does that make sense at all?
Russel: Yeah, it does. It goes to the conversation that was occurring at the committee meeting. What it really points out is every operator, and for that matter, every contractor, can define their approach to span of control.
Jim: Um…Yep, OK.
Russel: Then that impacts what records need to be kept, related to qualification.
Jim: Sure, absolutely.
Russel: Then you get into a whole another set of conversations about, “Well, if I’ve could a crew, and I’ve got a superintendent, and I’ve got a backhoe operator, and I’ve got some guys on shovels, and I’ve got a welder, some of those people probably need qualifications, but those qualifications may be different.”
It’s not like everybody on the crew has the same qualification. The welder’s going to need a different set of qualifications than the backhoe operator than the superintendent.
One of the things that was also being discussed, and this is why this is interesting to me, when you start talking from a pipeline safety perspective, we talk about the orbits or the organizational element of effective safety.
That is, are the people trained? Is the training appropriate to the job they’re doing? Do they have written procedures? Are they following the procedures as written? Are they trained in those procedures? Are they trained in AOCs around those procedures?
This starts getting quite big and quite complex quite quickly. I think where inspectors are going is they’re starting to ask deeper, more thoughtful questions other than just, “Was your crew OQ’d?”
Jim: 100 percent. I agree wholeheartedly with you. It’s very interesting. I’ll take an example in the South, that we might have a major contractor that is doing work for a major operator this week.
The operator says, for the people on site, the backhoes need to have these OQs. Whether it’s welders, or maybe it might be fusion with PE pipe, they have to have that, this, and the other thing. There might be some AOCs. Let’s pretend that that crew does that job there for that major operator in the South one day.
We’re just hypothetical. All of a sudden, they get moved up to Minnesota to work for another major contractor in two weeks. Now, we’re in the middle of December. They’re going to start a project in January up in Minnesota. What type of AOCs you think might be up there? We could have frost in the ground. We could have abnormal weather conditions.
Again, depending on the application, those AOCs could be very applicable. They might be doing the same project, but what the AOCs are in Minnesota versus, let’s say, in Florida could be very different. It really does take a lot in the contractor world, I will say, to be very well versed and to have your stuff really wired tight.
As a contractor, you are an extension of that operator. There is not a separation of the two, saying, “Oh, well, that’s a contractor. They’re responsible.” As an operator, Russel, if you and I ran a natural gas utility, any contractor we bring on board to do work for us is just like having our employees out there.
Russel: The operator is the one with the license to operate. They have responsibility for all things related to their operation. They can delegate that responsibility, but they can’t abdicate it.
Jim: No, they cannot, absolutely. It’s interesting because, as we said earlier, the OQ world has been around just less than two decades. I was at some meetings last – I don’t know – end of the summer, early fall, where I was sitting with some smaller operators, municipalities.
We were talking about OQ and some of the realities. They were talking about the need for bringing in contractors, which for them it really works well because they don’t have the staff enough to have enough people on hand to do some of these major projects.
We were talking about OQs and what they needed for their system. A few of the operators said, “As long as they’re OQ’d, they could come in.” I said, “Well, whose OQs are you referring to?” The smaller operator said, “Well, just OQs.” I’m like, “The OQs are yours. It’s everything in your O&M procedure manual.”
It’s still enlightening … I’m not trying to throw shade or throw anybody under the bus, but more so what you said about sharing education, that we all still need to be diligent with continuing to learn and understand and track that.
Don’t suffer in silence. Put the hand up and reach out to a company that specializes in OQ that especially has, like Energy Worldnet, has consultative services. That’s a perfect example where maybe have a four hour consulting session, or somebody, anybody, just to, again, learn.
Russel: I think what you’re getting at, Jim, is like a lot of other things, when you really start peeling the layers of the onion, the stuff starts getting very complicated. When you talk about small operators, what small operators typically do, they don’t have the staff to look deeply into these problems so they rely on others.
Boilerplate is probably not the right way to say it, but off the shelf, this is the way you do it, right?
Russel: That’s probably appropriate. Their risk is a lot different too, than the larger guys.
Jim: It is.
Russel: When you have very large systems and lots of people, that’s a different risk than when you have a small system and a small number of people. In the small systems with the small number of people, it’s more likely that everybody knows everything about that system.
Jim: Yep, hopefully. You’re absolutely right, I would say that.
Russel: All of those things go to the OQ. One of the things that’s very interesting in this conversation that we’re talking about, it’s not just the people, it’s also the equipment. Does the equipment…?
Russel: Is the equipment qualified to be used for that purpose on that job?
Jim: Russel, you bring up a great point. That’s something also that inspectors are really becoming in tune with. Think about it. If their project is on Main Street, USA, and they’re putting in a new PE pipe. Really, we have three major buckets.
We have the people doing the project themselves. Do they have the knowledge, skills, and ability to do it? Then we have the material itself, the PE pipe. That falls back on the manufacturer with what they’re making.
The third piece, as you just mentioned, the equipment, it might be a fusion machine. Inspectors are becoming very particular about that, asking about, especially with fusion machines, when was it maintained? When was it inspected? When was it calibrated?
That could even vary by state too. Some states are saying it’ll be calibrated after every fusion. When you have that…Let’s keep it simple. Maybe it’s just going to be calibrated once a day. Easy peasy, but you and I are there for 15 days putting this pipe in. We’re writing down on the piece of paper, as I like to call it, the truck file cabinet, which is the glove box, right?
Jim: We’d write them down and we put it in the file cabinet and away we go. Well, gosh forbid, three months, four months, nine months down the road somebody says, “Hey, we have a question about that project Russel and Jimmy did on that. What were the calibrations that you folks recorded every day?”
You and I better have those ready and able to present those, because at that time, it’s most likely an audit scenario. It could be just a general audit. They’re just wanting to check on what we did there. Again, if it’s done on the last day of the project, that’s a little bit easier.
If somebody comes back after a few months…I think your world is like mine, Russel, that things that happened in September, if I don’t have them documented, if I don’t have them in Outlook, if I don’t have them in Teams, if I don’t have those, it’s going to take me a long time to find it and to make sure that it’s correct. I want it timestamped.
That’s really where you get away from the pen and paper because pen and paper can be done at any time.
When you electronically stamp something, they know for those 15 days you and I were OQ’d per the operator for each one of those 15 days, and for those 15 days, the equipment that you and I were using, at the end of the day, we calibrated, we denoted that in the system, and it’s timestamped.
Once it goes into the cloud, it’s in the cloud. It’s there for us to use in 15 days, in 15 weeks, in 15 months, whatever the case may be.
Russel: Again, this was talked about in the committee meetings, but they also talked about sometimes it becomes quite difficult.
Even when that data has been captured electronically and stored someplace, it can still be quite difficult to pull that data up when it’s asked for because how that data gets asked for in inspections is very different from how it gets created and thrown into the database.
Jim: Sure. That’s why audits these days, thank goodness though with electronic capturing are, again, there could still be a great amount of work to get that data and to provide it and to make sure that you drill down into the needed data.
I remember back when I was working for an operator in 2002 to 2012, I sat in or was part of a couple audits and those days, we had reams and reams and boxes of paper. I’m telling you right now, part of it was like a needle in the haystack at times.
Russel: You can find yourself in that same thing in large electronic records if they’re not well organized.
Russel: What we do, we talk a lot about natural compliance. That’s the idea that when I create these records, I’m storing them in a way that I can pull them back. Basically, I’m storing them and tagging them saying, “Well, this particular audit relates to this question, which relates to this particular paragraph of the code, here’s all the records that support all that.”
That’s just a filtering criteria, but you have to tag that to the record when you create it.
Jim: There’s should have, could have or would have. As much as you put into the system right up front, the better you can pull out of the system down the road.
Russel: The more you can automate knowing that this task is related to this act, this task, this activity is related to this regulatory requirement, the more you can build that into your systems upfront. The more you move to…Our philosophy about natural compliance is you do the work, you use the tools, the records get created and tagged correctly.
That means that upfront, as you’re writing your policy, as you’re writing your procedures and you’re designing your systems, you have to think about all that upfront.
Russel: It’s much harder to get there after the fact.
Jim: What it boils down to when anybody were to be looking at, again, an OQ plan for their organization, it takes a team. It takes quite a bit of people. Sometimes it takes partnering with outside third party experts in the OQ world to marry that up.
It is not all, so to say, “Cookie cutter off the shelf and away you go, and you’re fine.” I know that the larger operators that I work closely with have, again, teams and teams of people. They’re constantly looking at not only the past and the present, but the future.
What do they need to plan for going forward? What’s the next 18 to 24 month plan? You mentioned that going into the AGA, and some other committee meetings and such. That’s why operators are so involved with that, because that’s where a lot of information, especially drafts and such, might be coming down.
Operators want the first peek at it. If they have an idea that something is in a draft form, well, that’s most likely going to become a…
Russel: Well, for those of us that go to those meetings, we all know that the best conversation about those things happens at the coffee breaks.
Russel: Because that’s when you go find a guy, and you say, “Hey, what are you doing about this? How do you all handle this? How’s that working for you? What do you think about this?”
There’s so much learning that occurs in the coffee breaks that…I don’t know. There’s a lot packed up there. I want to pivot a little bit if I can. You brought this up earlier. You talked about contractors.
I know that there’s some initiatives going on around OQ for contractors trying to set it up to make it easy for them to do work for multiple operators. Can you talk a little bit about what’s going on in that domain?
Jim: Yeah. One of the things too, I’ll use an acronym now. A B31Q, which is a set of OQ tasks and such like that, that a lot of operators are looking at now. They’re not going to be complete. They may be 80 percent, where they’re going to feel that 80 percent of these are good for us.
Think about it, if you have a major operator in Texas and another one in let’s say Alabama, and they’re both using the B31Q, so if you’re a contractor right in the middle, and you’re doing work for both, and you adhere to the B31Q that you have all those “OQs,” tasks and such in your arsenal, now, there may be some AOCs that are going to be a little bit different, or some other nuances.
That’s been a thing with the contractors for a long time is that…Again, I was a contractor for a while, 2015 to ’18, where when we did work for different operators, we had our OQs for this major operator in Arkansas. Now our next project is going to be over in Tennessee. We had to make sure that all of OQs were applicable.
Now, again, some are good. They may have some ones that we have that they don’t require, but there might be others that we need to do. We would have our teams, our technicians – at that time, it was LNG cryogenic technicians – go back in and up those OQs.
For a contractor, you have to be on your game. You got to know what you’re doing because just to say you OQ’d, that means the question should be, “Who are you OQ’d for, which operator?”
Again, just want to make sure that apples are apples, that the right ones for this operator in Texas, or Arkansas, and this one for Tennessee, that you are adhering to what they’re asking for.
Russel: Yeah. I think that the DCA has got some work that they’re doing where they’re trying to get very clear about what are the elements of OQs that are going to be consistent?
Jim: Yep. I think that OQIP, that’s what DCA is working on.
Russel: That’s an interesting notion, because even if you were to look at the common tasks, 80 or 90 percent of what people do is the same. It’s that other 10 or 20 percent that you’re changing. The DCA is looking at what’s the base level of qualification that’s consistent across everybody? Then what is the project specific qualification that we have to do in addition to that?
Russel: As a contractor, that makes a lot more sense as a way to manage that effort, because otherwise, you’re causing people to have to go through the same thing over and over and over again, with slight differences.
Russel: It’s a whole lot easier from a training perspective, and from a performance perspectives, and “Well, this is what’s consistent. On this project, this is what’s different.” That’s easier to keep in your head.
Jim: No. I agree with you, too. When you look at the OQ world, you have two aspects. One is CBT, which is computer based training. You may need to go on to a laptop or device and take a computer based training and pass that assessment to make sure you’re good at that task.
Some of them will have what’s called a performance evaluation. That takes it to the next step.
You go into the computer, you take your test, and you pass it. Then, you need to go do hands on, where you actually perform it and somebody is watching you and grading you, what you’re doing.
One, you show that you have the knowledge in the computer based training, but the skills and ability are coming through in a performance evaluation, when you go out to the yard and actually do it.
Russel: You don’t learn to operate a backhoe by taking a test.
Jim: No. You learn to, hopefully, have a seat in it and understand how to put the seatbelt on. Hopefully, you’re sitting with a qualified person or a certified person next to you that’ll show you how to do that.
That’s a prime example. You can’t take a test, go do that, and think you’re good…That’s an art. For people that are really good with backhoes, I give them a lot of kudos, because that is an art.
Russel: It is. I worked in high school for a couple of summers where my dad worked. He was with a heavy equipment firm that bought, refurbished, and resold heavy equipment of all types.
One of the things I learned is it’s one thing to get on a piece of equipment and move it from point A to point B. It’s another thing to make a mess. It’s another thing to operate.
Jim: If anybody doesn’t understand it, I tell them, “Listen. Go ask a friend with a pickup truck, rent just a little U-Haul trailer to put on the back of it, and then back that up into a driveway.”
Russel: Then, watch somebody who does it every day back it into a driveway.
Jim: Absolutely. It looks easy peasy. I’ll tell you it’s not.
Russel: There’s a lot of things that look easy when they’re done well, and you don’t know how hard they are until you stand off and look at them.
Jim: That’s when we get to…Go ahead, Russel. I’m sorry.
Russel: I want to pivot again, because there’s one other topic. You’ve talked a lot about AOCs. I think that’s an area that the inspectors are starting to look at with a lot more intentionality and detail. I won’t name any names, to protect the guilty.
A number of years ago, I was working with an operator where they had got inspected. The inspector said, “What are your AOCs?” They said, “We don’t have any.” They said, “Yeah, you do. You just don’t know what they are.”
They ended up in a little bit of a punitive action, following that. I think AOCs is something that’s very interesting, because how do you do OQ for AOCs?
Jim: That’s a good question. Just to make sure we’re clear, AOC is Abnormal Operating Conditions. That’s anything out of the normal.
When you’re an operator, you need to really think about that and to think about what those would be. Folks that may live in the California area, AOCs could include seismic activity, earthquakes, and how are you dealing with it there.
Again, an operator in Tempe, Arizona, Phoenix, or anywhere may not have the same concerns with seismic activity, but they could have concerns with excessive heat and how that could pertain to the system.
As we mentioned, North Dakota, Minnesota, earlier, excessive cold. When we start to get down into Louisiana, it could be how are you going to deal with running that pipe across, through, or near that swampland?
Russel: High water table.
Jim: Yeah. There’s lots of different things. They really need to be incorporated into your O&M and your OQ plan because, again, they’re very specific to you and yours. Meaning that if you have a majority of the common covered tasks that are working for you, there’s got to be some nuances that are going to be very specific.
I always say to folks, “What are the things that are talked around the water cooler about?” If you’re in South Dakota, and they talk about ground heaving, what does that mean to you? How far down does it go? Is it only the 48 inches, or is it now down to the 54 inches that you’re experiencing this ground heaving?
As a result of that, what are you folks doing differently? These are the things that are taken into account. When you get down into Texas, ground heaving generally isn’t a problem. In Texas, there’s a whole ecosystem there.
Russel: You got four major climate zones in Texas, and they all have different requirements. If you’re in the Gulf Coast, one of the big things you talk about is excessive rain and flooding.
Jim: Having lived through Harvey in Houston a few years back, I can tell you firsthand that the results of that were positively and concerningly seen overall by those who did and did not properly think about what that AOC flooding and/or excessive water did to their system or these systems.
Russel: I think, too, if you’re talking about just field work, construction work, ditch work, there’s a lot of things that are AOC centric that are related to weather and the ground you’re working at.
Even within a city, your AOCs could change. Even in Houston, if you’re in West Houston, it’s all clay. If you’re in Eastern Houston, it’s black, loamy soil. Those two things are different if you’re working in a ditch.
Capturing all that into an OQ plan for a project, a bit mind boggling, frankly.
Jim: It really is. It really is. Again, as we talked about earlier, the days of having binders, writing things down, and/or printing them out, saving them, and cataloging them…Now, to be able to use electronic mediums is helping absolutely greatly. We’re making strides.
We’re continuing to make strides in that, too. It’s one of those things that, Russel, probably will never be completely finished. It’s like an API 1173 PSMS plan. You’re never complete. You’re never done. You’re always enhancing and always getting better.
Russel: If you get a plan that’s pretty well documented, and you’re adding to it, you can improve it over time. It’s daunting if you think about doing it from scratch, but it’s very achievable if you think about doing it over the course of 5 to 10 years.
Jim: Absolutely. You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great. You have to get started on it. You have to get rolling on it.
Russel: That’s good. I’m keeping that. I’m taking that from you, calling it my own, Jim. That’s awesome.
Jim: I stole it from Zig Ziglar. Let’s give Zig credit on that one. It sticks in my mind all the time. Again, when I talk to folks, it really is taking that first step. It’s taking that first step, working with it, understanding what works well, what doesn’t, and then going to the next step, taking the next step, and continuous improvement.
When we talk about O&M, OQ plans, and general projects that we’re doing in the industry, I think those two words, continuous improvement, is always something that everybody can agree on. We can always look for ways to be better, safer, more reliable.
Russel: If you think about OQ and you think about it from a different perspective and you think about it as detailed work planning, that is like, “Oh, OK. That’s a little easier to swallow because it’s something I need to do anyways,” versus, “It’s something I have to do to meet a regulatory requirement.”
The only real difference between the regulatory requirement and what you ought to be doing anyways is keeping the records in a way you can find them for the audit.
Jim: Absolutely. OQs were…When you think about it, why are there regulatory requirements? Because we found a way to do it better as an industry, let’s just say that. That if there wasn’t some sort of issue in the past somewhere or somewhere along the line, it would not have become a requirement.
But because it was found to be a challenge, or an issue, or an opportunity, someone, i.e., the regulatory body said, “This is the way we should be doing it, if not better.” Again, here’s the baseline, but maybe, based on where you’re going, what are the nuances that you can add to that, like we were talking about AOCs?
That’s really how I look at a lot of the regulatory bodies, especially states, they try to work with folks, whether it’s a contractor or an operator, it’s not us against them. It’s more so working in conjunction.
Everybody wants a safe, reliable grid. What can we do together? What have we all learned? What has an inspector learned from somebody else that they can pass on?
Not just ding somebody with a fine, but saying, “Hey, I was over in this county and I saw them doing this and it really made a lot of sense. Have you guys done that?” Then it gets back to your comment earlier about partnering up and networking with our counterparts in the industry.
Like you said, at an AGA meeting, the amount of things where people say, “I got a friend with a pipeline that’s dealing with ‘this,'” air quotes again.
Jim: Then these conversations happen, and people, they might be a little apprehensive to bring it up, but when they get out in that coffee break, they look for trusted friends that they’ve known for years. They actually start having these conversations, and again, it is for the betterment of our industry.
Russel: Absolutely. One last question. Where do you see OQ going that it’s not yet gone in terms of types of topics?
Jim: In specific topics, I think the biggest part that I’ve seen just recently is, as I alluded to earlier, about the manufacturers, and really diving deep into those manufacturers. That if you’re using a manufacturer procedure that in the past was just reading the instructions, and not really doing a little bit more, I’ve gotten a little bit deeper into that.
I think that there’s probably that triangle with partnering up with the manufacturers and getting those a little bit down. More so, it’s not just in the OQ, follow manufacturer guidelines, specifications, and directions. It’s actually having a CBT that dives deep into that manufacturer process.
I also see that in the world that we live in with mutual aid and everything like that, a little bit more like you indicated with the DCAs, where we can get into platforms where people are adhering to the base “80 percent of everybody agrees upon this.” Whether you’re in Kansas, or you’re in Wyoming, or in Louisiana, we all agree on this.
There’s going to be the AOCs a little variances, but I really see the need because, what used to be just in our backyard, so to speak, that world has changed, where people are going outside of their backyard and they’re looking at things regionally if not nationally.
Russel: No, I agree. I agree. Look, this has been awesome. I appreciate you taking the time. That just flew right by.
Jim: It did. It absolutely did. I enjoyed it so much, Russel. Thanks for having me on. You always have a seat at our table, my friend. If you ever have a message to share, the door goes both ways there.
Russel: I appreciate that. Thank you.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Jim. Just a reminder – before you go, you should register to win our customized pipeliners podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit PipelinePodcastNetwork.com/Win and enter yourself in the drawing.
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Transcription by CastingWords