This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features Shawn Lyon of Marathon Pipe Line discussing the importance of active pipeline safety and how to share safety information throughout the industry. The episode was recorded in person during the 2022 API Pipeline, Control Room And Cybernetics Conference.
In this episode, you will learn about the importance of sharing data throughout the industry with other companies and how something similar to the Aviation Safety Action Program would be beneficial to the safety of the pipeliners community.
Pipeline Safety: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms
- Shawn Lyon is the president of Marathon Pipe Line. Connect with Shawn on LinkedIn.
- Marathon Pipe Line (MPL) is a subsidiary of Marathon Petroleum Corporation that owns, operates, and develops midstream energy infrastructure assets.
- Watch the video interviews that Russel Treat recorded during the 2022 Pipeline, Control Room And Cybernetics Conference.
- Pipeline SMS (Pipeline Safety Management Systems) or PSMS is an industry-wide focus to improve pipeline safety, driving toward zero incidents.
- Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) is a US aviation proactive safety program. It is to enhance aviation safety through the prevention of accidents and incidents. Its focus is to encourage voluntary reporting of safety issues and events that come to the attention of employees of certain certificate holders.
- Geohazards or geological hazards are the results of natural, active geologic processes which may include landslides, soil erosion, karst phenomena, and river migration.
- NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) is an independent Federal agency charged by Congress with investigating every civil aviation accident in the United States and significant accidents in other modes of transportation – railroad, highway, marine, and pipeline.
- PHMSA (Pipeline And Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) protects people and the environment by advancing the safe transportation of energy and other hazardous materials that are essential to our daily lives. To do this, the agency establishes national policy, sets and enforces standards, educates, and conducts research to prevent incidents. They prepare the public and first responders to reduce consequences if an incident does occur.
- Listen to the episode Russel mentioned with John Deleeuw here.
Pipeline Safety: Full Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 232, sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute, driving safety, environmental protection, and sustainability across the natural gas and oil industry through world class standards and safety programs. Since its formation as a standard setting organization in 1919, API has developed more than 700 standards to enhance industry operations worldwide. Find out more about API at api.org.
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 Pipeliners Podcast. I appreciate that you take the time, and to show the appreciation, we give away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener every episode. This week our winner is Eric Sanchez with Holly Energy Partners. Congratulations, Eric. Good things come to those that go to the website and complete the win form. To learn how you can win this signature prize, stick around to the end of the episode.
This week, Shawn Lyon returns to the podcast. Shawn is president of Marathon Pipe Line, and he’s joining us to talk about pipeline safety management and information sharing.
Russel: Shawn, welcome again to the Pipeliners Podcast. So glad to have you. I’m really looking forward to this conversation.
Shawn Lyon: Same here, Russel. I want to just start off thanking you for what you do by doing this. It helps the industry’s culture because of the number of listeners you have and the topics we talk about. It’s not necessarily always prescriptive. It’s more about how we as an industry do the right thing, and so I want to thank you for that.
Russel: I appreciate it. I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback. We’re actually here at the API Pipeline Conference, and I’ve gotten a lot of feedback. I’ve had a lot of people carve me off and tell me about the podcast, and how they’ve listened to it, and how it’s helped them out in learning the business. I love getting that feedback, and it’s great to be out with people again.
Shawn: Like you, out of the blue, people will come up to me and say, “Hey, I heard you on Russel’s podcast or the Pipeliners Podcast.” I didn’t really know which one, and it’s just neat to see that people are listening. They’re gaining something from it. That’s the most important part.
Russel: That’s exactly right. This is just a vehicle to communicate. We’re here to talk about pipeline safety management again.
Russel: The listeners probably ought to know that I wrote, I’ve been drafting, I’m working on, I’m calling it my pipeline safety manifesto. Really what I’m doing is I’m doing some vision casting. I’m trying to throw out a vision for the industry and then talk to people like yourself that have been working with this and get your feedback.
You’ve had an opportunity to read my manifesto. Am I crazy, or what do you think? What was your takeaway?
Shawn: No, you’re exactly right. It’s vision casting. Where do we go next? The beauty of SMS to me, it’s not a static document. It’s a document that outlines your process for you to become better and ultimately drive to zero.
I just think it’s awesome that we’re constantly trying to improve it. What your manifesto talks about is how do we have additional accountability as an industry to elevate our performance.
Russel: Right. That’s part of it. That’s one of the key concepts.
Shawn: The other thing is how do we learn from each other. We’ve made steps towards that, but we’ve got a long way to go.
Russel: We’re certainly moving, and we’re picking up velocity. A couple of the key points I made is one, we’ve got to do a better job about what I call structured data. The idea is that we’ve got to capture this data about safety performance in a way that we can do analysis, and even more so than doing that within a company, we actually need to be able to do that across the entire industry.
We need to know how operator A is doing versus operator B. Not like a competition, but so that we can actually learn from that understanding why we are having differences.
What are you doing differently than us, and why are you getting a different result than us? That’s so critically important on this journey that we’re trying to undertake as an industry.
Shawn: I couldn’t agree more. There’s a couple things that resonates with me is that what happens to one of us happens to all of us. We hear that all the time, and I’ve experienced it firsthand.
The other thing is at times we need to take a step back and look at it from the public’s perspective on pipelines. They view us as one giant company on performance.
If you think about when each of us within our companies set our minds to achieving something within our company, we do that. Now, if we can elevate that to the industry level, and have the data, and have the discussions, and the learning and sharing, wow.
I have no doubt this industry can achieve that drive to zero because we’re resilient. We know how to do stuff, but we’ve got to learn how to aggregate it somewhat efficiently and effectively.
Russel: I absolutely agree, and there’s going to be a lot of work and a lot of effort to understand what that looks like in the details. There’s a lot there that has to happen.
One of the things that I did recently is I had a guy named John DeLeeuw on the podcast. John is a guy who’s worked in aviation safety management for 30 years, and I wanted to understand the aviation industry’s journey.
There were a lot of themes that resonate with where we are. We’re where they were 25 years ago. We’ve embraced the idea we need to do safety management, but we’re still learning. We’re still evolving and maturing. We’ve got a long way to go.
One of the things that he talks about is this thing called the Aviation Safety Action Program, which is a way for people throughout the aviation industry, and John was, as a pilot, he’s most familiar with what pilots do, but you can self-report, and you can self-report without it being punitive.
I know some companies are doing that, but we’re not doing that as an industry really. What do you think has to happen in order that we can actually start to get there as an industry?
Shawn: I’ve actually thought about that very question a lot because I agree with you. That’s an area where we can really help move the needle on safety. Other industries have done that. The nuclear industry has done some of the similar type things.
One of the things we got to do, sometimes we want to jump to the end solution, and it’ll be this great big program. We just got to take one step at a time, and we got to just start doing it.
Pretty soon, I really believe, in knowing this industry for many, many years, that it will gain momentum. People will see the benefits by sharing. Their fears don’t come to realization.
Too often we get paralyzed by the fears of my attorneys won’t allow me, or I’ll be misquoted, or the regulator’s going to fine me. I haven’t experienced that, and I can tell you I’ve always tried to challenge our folks and myself. Step out there, because what’s the greater good? The greater good is protecting the public and making sure that they’re safe.
At times, yeah, you get criticized a little bit, but in the end, I haven’t experienced a negative consequence of what some of the fears have been.
Russel: That’s interesting. I wanted to ask you specifically about something that Marathon Pipe Line did recently. You guys did a call-out to anybody interested about a safety issue that you guys found and you wanted to share with the industry. Could you tell us about what you guys did there?
Shawn: Yeah. Just in March here, we had a geohazard happen to one of our pipelines, and it literally pulled our pipe apart. It’s, to me, one of the evolving, newer threats in the industry that we’ve got to get our arms around just as we did 15 years ago on cracks and other stuff. We came along, and now we know. Geohazards is where we’re at now. It happened to us.
NTSB launched on that incident for us. Typically, and all of us in the industry know, when NTSB launches and they’re investigating your site there, it pretty well slows down your response, slows everything down, shuts all the communications down. I really believe some of the learnings there that we learned needed to get out right away.
I talked with Rob Hall, who is the director over the NTSB for pipelines, and Alan Mayberry for PHMSA, and Tristan Brown. I said, “Listen.” I said, “This is something if we go within a few weeks after this incident, I promise you there’ll be a great outcome here.” I said, “But if we wait a year, we’ll get an eighth of people wanting to learn from this.”
They agreed, and we worked with NTSB and PHMSA. We held it about two and a half weeks after the incident, and we had over 900 people on an Infoshare, operator to operator.
Russel: That’s unprecedented though, isn’t it?
Shawn: Yes, yeah, it was.
Russel: The industry’s never done anything like that before.
Shawn: At that level, for sure. What’s exciting about it, you know who was most excited about it, and they offered to do this, and I really wanted them to do it, but Alan Mayberry of PHMSA and Rob Hall of NTSB wanted to do the introduction to the Infoshare. They did a nice introduction, and then they graciously stepped out of the Infoshare and allowed operators to have open and honest dialogue.
Russel: That is what we ought to be doing.
Russel: That kind of thing actually makes the hair stand up on my neck a little bit…
Russel: …because that’s where we need to be headed. That’s what we need to be doing. Right?
Shawn: Yeah. What’s gratifying to us, none of us, we’ve all can be in each other’s shoes when you have an incident, and you feel bad not only for your company, but you feel bad for the industry because we know we affect each other.
To me, it’s also about how do we give back? How do we help? Say, “Hey, this happened to us. I don’t want it to happen to you.” We’ve got to step up and share, and do that, and push that envelope. I can tell you there were people saying this will never happen, to do that share.
Russel: I’m sure. I’m sure.
Shawn: Now looking back at it, we can do more of that. Did we know all of the answers at the time? Absolutely not, but we probably knew 90, 95 percent of what happened.
Russel: What you said is true, and I’m sitting here reflecting on why is it true in that if we get the information out quickly, operator to operator, there’s going to be a lot of interest. If we wait and we get the information out through an NTSB report, there’s not a lot of interest.
It’s an interesting question. Why is that? Culturally, in our industry, why is it? I don’t know that I have an answer for that, but it’s just interesting to reflect on.
Shawn: You’re right. I had this discussion with NTSB and PHMSA wanting to do it was there’s a short window of learning in front of us, and if we can capture that window, you will maximize the potential.
What’s even more awesome is sometimes we want to say PHMSA’s going to work on a rule or advisor bulletin and all that sort of stuff. Let us just start talking about it. I know this industry. Our resiliency, and our innovation, and our desire to do the right thing is impressive, but let us start talking about it. That started the discussion.
Now we’re working on an RP for geohazards. PHMSA’s going to be issuing an advisory bulletin, so there’ll be a continuation of the discussion. That was just the beginning, the Infoshare. Now there’ll be a continuation.
The other exciting part about that share, it was not just liquids, it was gas because geohazards don’t discriminate. [laughs] It is going after the pipe, not necessarily what’s in the pipe.
Russel: Exactly. Exactly. To me, that whole conversation’s fascinating.
You guys are to be commended with what you did there, and you’re doing two things: one, you’re setting a precedent, but even more so than setting a precedent, what you’re doing is you’re making it OK for others to say hey, you know what, we’re going to do the same thing. If we have something happen, we’re going to get the information out.
The thing about a geohazard that’s different than some of the other safety is the human element. We all know that if we go and we look at safety and we look at incidents that most of them involve some kind of human factor failure.
I don’t mean human failure. I mean human factor failure. That’s a training, or process, or procedure, or something that we’re, in our systems, are doing wrong. Getting that information out is tougher.
Shawn: I fully agree with you there. I will say this. If you focus on sharing the facts, what is it , not an interpretation, that’ll happen later down the road, but sharing the facts, here’s the circumstances around it, that will allow operators enough to start looking, “Hey, how could I prevent that within my system?” I agree with you. There is liability, and plus you don’t know everything right after an incident.
If you share the facts, and that’s what we tried to stay with, and that was my discussions with NTSB is, “Hey, well, I’m just trying to share the facts.” They were so supportive. Rob Hall and Alan Mayberry, I commend them, their leadership. A funny quote I’ll tell you. Alan, afterwards, he said, “This is fantastic.” He said, “I’ve been wanting to do this for years.”
It’s just exciting to see that because we’re all in this together. It’s not them against us. We’re in this together because when we have big incidents, it’s hard for them. It’s hard for the public. It’s hard for us. How can we help each other? That was a great example, and I commend them for their leadership for doing that.
Russel: It also is an illustration that there really are opportunities to collaborate with the agencies and that there is an interest in the agencies and the agency leadership to collaborate with industry. That’s how we solve problems. We got to work together. We got to pull the train together.
Shawn: The collaboration just doesn’t happen through rules and regulations. The collaboration happens through discussions in crisis moments, in tense moments, but also conferences like the API conference here. Alan Mayberry, Linda Daugherty, you’re here, others are here, and we’re talking about how we can become better. That’s what this is about.
Russel: Right. I want to shift the conversation a little bit because the other thing I’m laying out in my manifesto, one of the other things that’s really important is the systems that we got to get in place. The nature of pipelining, one of the other parallels between aviation and pipelining is there’s a lot of very technical, very vertical disciplines.
In the pipeline world, we’re seeing safety improvements in the vertical disciplines long before we’re seeing improvements in those things that cut across multiple disciplines. A tee up, what do you think’s required of us to get systems in place that are going to support safety management across disciplines?
Shawn: You probably have heard some discussions within our own company. We call it our siloes. Right?
Shawn: Where our siloes, and you’re focused on integrity, and there’s a concept that we started a couple years ago, I started saying, is that we all share this risk. When it comes to integrity management, it’s just not your integrity department. It is your damage prevention group. It is your folks engaging with the landowners. It’s a shared risk.
Russel: It’s your control room. It’s the entire corporate operating system.
Shawn: That’s right.
Russel: Even your business development affects integrity management.
Shawn: Absolutely. What’s the goal of integrity management? Zero incidents. We are trying to mitigate so we can achieve that collectively. Too often, we say, “Well, we’ll turn it over to the integrity department because that’s where it fits nice.” We’re still on that journey for sure, but we’re opening up and what I will call empowering our leaders to step out of their lane.
You ever see the Geico commercial of, and the tattoo artist is saying, “Hey, this doesn’t look right.” The tattoo guy looks at the guy he’s putting the tattoo on and says, “Hey, stay in your lane, bro.”
Shawn: Our phrase is hey, get out of your lane.
Russel: Get out of your lane.
Shawn: Get out of your lane and challenge the integrity department. Why is this? Challenge the damage prevention because collectively we’ll help each other.
Russel: I agree with that. In practice, it’s challenging because of workload issues.
Shawn: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Russel: And focus. One of the things that’s very interesting about the pipeline business, it’s so very technical. It’s impossible to know all the technical domains we have.
Shawn: It is.
Russel: We have these experts that have that technical depth that we call on and utilize, but that’s a very different kind of skill set than those folks that are looking across the organization.
My MBA was quantitative, and it was a lot of total quality management, and dimming, and all that kind of stuff when I studied all that. In the manufacturing world, you can break that down.
Shawn: That’s right.
Russel: The big culture shift they had to make is they had to start taking and have people looking at the system, not just people looking at the process.
Shawn: That’s right.
Russel: I don’t know. Do we have people in our industry that are really the subject matter experts in the system, or is that a gap we need to plug or capability we need to build?
Shawn: I would answer it this way, and I agree with you. Processes are too close to the action at times. We need the processes, but the system, and I would say the system is SMS, safety management system, and we’re teaching people what that looks like, and that’s evolving.
I see it across companies. They’re trying to focus on how we evaluate our processes and the effectiveness and challenging our process leaders. Here’s what’s happening. We’re seeing this in our company.
There is an inherent bias. When you ask someone that’s in charge of a process, “Russel, do you got everything? You’re good?” “Oh, yeah. I got everything. I talked to everyone and all that.”
Then you go out and you talk to employees, and you say, “Hey, any feedback on anything?” They say, “Russel’s process really doesn’t do that.” You go back to you, and you say, “Well, I didn’t know that.” It’s that type of vicious cycle.
Russel: That’s a communications issue.
Russel: It’s also a systems issue. We call that, in our world, in our business, we call that stakeholder engagement. Stakeholder engagement is getting the information back and then processing it and sending back the results of the processing. That’s stakeholder engagement.
The other thing, there’s a lot of conversation or confusion, if you will, about policy, procedure, process. What do these terms mean? One of the things that’s been an aha moment for me, and I’ve learned this from Sheila Howard and Gary White, is that process is not work. Process is not a task. Process is everything governing the effectiveness of the work or the task.
Task is I’ve got to go do this dig. I got to go do this dig, and there’s all the things around the dig. Process is asking a whole bunch of questions about that, about did we plan the work.
Did we execute the work as planned? Did we query the people that did the work? Did they do a job task? Did they do a job hazard review? Did they follow the procedures? Do they say they followed the procedures? Do they say they understand the procedures?
They say they had the right equipment? Did they have the right tools? Did they have the right training? Did they have the right leadership, the right supervision, all this kind of stuff?
That data needs to be systematically gathered because it’s only by gathering that data and doing the analysis are we going to get to the learning we need to actually build the systems.
Russel: You and I’ve talked before, and we always talk about it really matters at the boots on the ground, but it’s really the system around what’s supporting those guys with the boots on the ground.
Shawn: That’s right. I think what you’re leading to is how do you get and sort the data, how do you analyze the data. It’s bite size chunks, and it’s chunks where so when we talk about shared risk, it’s all the way from that technician to that engineer.
What the technicians needs is different than what the engineers, but it’s all the same data. You can’t just send the overall file. You have to have a system that breaks it down.
Russel: It’s not the same context.
Shawn: I fully agree with it .
Russel: It’s not the same information. Information being what we distill out of the data to use for decision making. To my point, being clear about what data we need to capture and how we need to capture it requires a great deal of subject matter expert engagement.
It’s in the I got these results, and you got these results, and we came to different conclusions. Hmm, isn’t that interesting? How did that we happen? That we actually start to refine. I don’t think we’re there at that level yet. We’re working to get there.
Shawn: I go back to there’s, even with data, there is an inherent bias. How do I have the data to show what shows all the positives we’re doing?
Russel: It’s like what my dad used to tell us, “Russel, figures never lie, but liars figure.”
Shawn: [laughs] People do it because they want to show they’re making a difference, but yet there’s an inherent bias, and we need to develop how do we get that inherent bias out because that inherent bias can lead us down the wrong and not have us as effective as we can be.
Russel: No doubt.
Shawn: Some of it comes down to culture and making sure people understand what’s your real objective. I’ll give you an example of how we had a depth to cover issue. A farmer hit our line, and our line was, it should have been deeper. It should have been deeper.
We went through, and we developed how much are we going to lower our lines, and we said, “Hey, we’ll go let’s say 18 inches or 24 inches.” That became “that’s the goal.” I said, “No, that’s not the goal. The goal is to make sure a farmer never hits our line.”
Shawn: If he’s got a piece of equipment that goes 36 inches, we got to get it out. [laughs]
Russel: There is so much bound up in that simple little conversation because we confuse specification of work with objective of the process.
Shawn: You got it.
Russel: They’re not the same thing.
Shawn: You got it.
Russel: They’re very closely related, but they are not the same thing.
Shawn: I would argue that the implementers of those processes need to understand the specifications, but they also need to understand the objective. With culture, if they could understand the why and the objectives, they’ll get you there.
Russel: I’ve got to revise my manifesto now because this is an extremely good point.
Russel: If you think about the US military, and one of the reasons it’s so effective is that everybody understands the work they got to do, but they also understand the objective, and they understand the constraints and limitations around achieving the objective. They understand what they need and what they have available to them.
It’s out of full understanding that people’s creativity comes up with a solution that nobody anticipated.
Shawn: I would say they’re empowered to get to the objective.
Russel: That’s right.
Shawn: You’re empowered to get to the objective.
Russel: Your job is the objective. Here is how we think you should accomplish it, but if that doesn’t work, your job is to get to the objective.
Russel: Again, there’s a lot bound up in that. Right?
Shawn: Yeah, for sure. For sure.
Russel: Did you have any other comments to me about the document I shared with you? Anything else that leaped out? Anything where you think, Russel, you’re off the rails there?
Russel: The train’s not on the tracks.
Shawn: No. I really liked some of your thoughts about culture. I liked some of the thoughts of really about a, I’ll say somewhat of an industry accountability to do this, and to share, and how do we do this because it comes down to risk management. It comes down to am I comfortable with sharing. Probably on a lot of stuff, but another company may not be.
It may be on the situation too, but how do we get it so it’s a safe environment. We’re trying to achieve safety. We got to create the safe environment, and that’s something we have to evolve.
The other thing I really liked about the document is you’re taking the time to take us to the next level, and that is so important. SMS was designed not to be, as I said before, static or just yep, check, check, check.
Russel: It’s a process.
Shawn: It’s a process.
Russel: It’s an industry capability and competency.
Shawn: Like you, I’m plugged into NTSB and a lot of the airline industry, and I’ve talked to them. I can tell you what, after the Boeing incidents, right before the pandemic, the 737 Max, the tragedies they had there, several of the leaders said, “We failed because we lost track of SMS.” They lost track of it.
We need to make sure as a pipeline industry we don’t lose track of it. We’ve had great results so far. Our release has gone…
Russel: Success breeds complacency.
Shawn: Yes. We need to keep challenging ourselves and make sure SMS is as exciting as it was when it was rolled out.
Russel: One of the things that we have to get to, and I think that we’re getting there probably quicker than we realize, is that everybody has to realize they have the authority to shut down a pipeline if they believe it to be unsafe.
Shawn: Sometimes we think that’s just the controller. It could be the integrity engineer. It could be the analyst saying, “Hey, I don’t like this spreadsheet. Here. You get it to the control room.”
We say, “We got to shut it down.” It’s not just the person pushing the buttons. It’s the people making all the support decisions, the SME to get us so we can operate safely.
Russel: Right. I agree. I agree. Listen, this has been awesome. You have anything else you want to add about this conversation or is this good enough to call it good for today?
Shawn: No. Again, I want to applaud you, and I just encourage. This is a great industry, and your podcast has helped fill a void there, but we need to keep socializing. How do we do more?
The sharing, and I will say this about the sharing, one of the things that was really special to me is when we had that incident in Edwardsville just last month, I received numerous phone calls and people say, “How can I help?” It just shows how close our industry is. I told them, I said, “Hey, I think we’re good here.'”
The real answer is this, when you have something that happens that you share, and you share timely. Don’t wait for a year. Go and work with our associations, AOPL, API. They will help you do it, and it is so valuable. We’ve, the team that did the share, they’ve had countless people come up to them and say, “Hey, thank you for sharing.”
Russel: I will say that you’re really fostering a culture of sharing in Marathon. I had some guys reach out to me very early on in the podcast. You know who I’m talking about.
Russel: I call them the three amigos.
Russel: They came on and did a whole series of podcasts. I still get comments about that. We talked about a lot of really technical, in the weeds stuff, but it was just really awesome.
I appreciate it’s so hard for somebody who’s doing something like this because there’s so much concern about the wrong message is going to get out to the wrong people. I really appreciate the, not just yourself, but your whole team and your willingness to just say, “Hey, look, here’s what we’re learning that we think other people ought to know.”
Shawn: Absolutely. To me, that centers around we’re called to be humble and have humility, but also, we’re called to be transparent. When you do those two things, good things happen.
Russel: Thank you so much for coming on. We got to do it again.
Shawn: All right. Sounds good. Thanks, Russel.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Shawn. 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.
Russel: If you have ideas, questions, or topics you’d be interested in listening to, please let me know either on the contact us page at pipelinepodcastnetwork.com or you can reach out to me directly on LinkedIn. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.
Transcription by CastingWords