During many years of working on oil and gas pipeline projects, the authors have experienced many occasions where safety and environmental professionals on the same project have conducted assessments without using an integrated approach, often to the detriment of the project. This ‘siloed’ behaviour is evident in the way that safety and environmental teams are often assembled at different times and have little to no interaction.
An Environmental, Social and Health Impact Assessment (ESHIA) is used as a key mechanism to identify potential adverse consequences from a pipeline project in terms of unwanted impacts to fauna and flora and local communities. Simultaneously, major hazard studies are carried out for a pipeline project to identify major accident hazards risks to adjacent communities or at above ground installations (AGIs), usually from flammable events due to the transport of natural gas, crude oil or petroleum products. Both the ESHIA and the major accident hazards processes will identify appropriate prevention, control and mitigation measures to reduce the risk from the pipeline system and to manage the potential adverse consequences in the unlikely event of a major accident.
Within the scope of many ESHIAs prepared now, there is an assessment of environmental and social impacts from ‘unplanned events’, which essentially are those major hazard events with the potential to cause multiple injuries or fatalities to people in the local community or at AGIs. As such events are likely to have a major consequence to the environment, particularly in the case of crude oil and petroleum products releases, it makes sense for such events to be studied by both safety and environmental professionals using an integrated approach.
Such an integrated approach requires collaboration between various professionals from an early point within a project, as there are several different aspects with a pipeline project that will require the assessment of key personnel. For a pipeline project in the design stages, the main points for consideration are as follows:
• Construction of the pipeline system, with major disruptions to the local environment from the construction itself (line pipe and AGIs) and due to the logistical requirements (traffic movements, movements of personnel and construction camps, moving major equipment across the world).
• Operation of the pipeline system, with potential adverse impacts due to a loss of containment, as has been shown by many accidents in the past (e.g. Ref 1, 2).
The key issue here is that the initiating events often remain the same, certainly with regard to operations where the initiating event will be a loss of containment. There may be adverse consequences to people, the biological environment and the physical environment, depending on the location and nature of the incident. For this reason joint participation in the hazard identification (HAZID) process by key safety, social and environmental professionals is considered beneficial to a pipeline project to ensure all potential initiators are included. In this case, the HAZID process would also include an environmental impact identification (ENVID), rather than conducting both processes separately.
A major advantage of conducting an integrated approach is the potential cost-savings. By bringing together technical safety and environmental professionals at an early stage of pipeline project design, there is the potential to avoid ‘doubling-up’ on potential issues, as well as conducting two parallel processes that have many similarities. Perhaps more significantly, many potential adverse consequences (environmental, social and safety) can be prevented, controlled or mitigated through their early consideration during project design. Hence, by bringing together these different technical view-points at an early stage of pipeline system design, potential risk reduction options that would be beneficial to people and the environment may be identified. If ESHIA considerations and major accident hazard studies are evaluated in parallel during the early stages of a project (e.g. Appraise or Select), a pipeline project will have more available options to prevent potential impacts. As prevention of hazards is generally more cost-effective than designing in control and mitigation measures (for recovery of an incident), this will have a critical financial benefit. Furthermore, early changes to project design are generally far less costly than changes in the latter stages of a pipeline project; hence, early identification of prevention and risk reduction may be hugely beneficial.