This paper presents the severe and often times game-changing limitations associated with our observational learning mode and the ineffective knowledge base that results from it. More specifically, this paper stands our current approach of pipeline risk assessment on its head, describing how “rare-events” data, as they relate to significant pipeline failures, are simply not being addressed by our probabilistic risk analyses and modern statistical approaches. Further, risk blindness has been shown to consistently minimize the perception of high-consequence risk in the corporate world. Touching on themes from Nassim Taleb’s book, The Black Swan [1], this paper is about those failure events that lie outside the realm of regular possibility. Such events would never have been convincingly predicted prior to their occurrence, and yet they carry an extreme impact. Note that just because a failure was catastrophic does not necessarily mean it was a Black Swan. For example the financial melt down of 1982 was a catastrophe, but it was not a black swan. There have been numerous pipeline failures over the years that were quite catastrophic, but which were not Black Swans as referenced in this paper. They were neglect. It is important not to confuse the two.

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