1. Hi Rod. I worked some on this problem, back-in-the-day when I had my own database business. You can see a little of my work on the “portfolio” page of my company website, under Gas Utility White Paper.


    There’s a long history to this issue. Once upon a time, utilities were supposed to obey certain regulations about gas pipelines. “Command and control” regulation. However, this type of regulation was seen as overly expensive and really not the best protection for the public. The command-and-control idea was that there were certain rules for high-density areas, and other rules for low-density areas, and the utility had to dig up existing pipeline when that one extra house was built, moving the area from low to high-density. Also, frankly, command-and-control wasn’t enforced that well.

    So the utilities argued for self-regulation, and they got it. Vendor companies wrote elaborate risk-assessment software for utilities to use, and to show the software to regulators, to show the gas companies were doing this great self-regulating stuff. Alas, the utilities actually didn’t have even a tenth of the data that the software required, so the software was pretty much useless.

    There is almost no data on older gas pipelines.My company did a risk analysis and came up with a list of rather simple things to assess (for example, do you have data on this piece of pipeline? when did you install it?). Things they actually had some data about!

    I think the gas company liked our work (I will not say whether the company was in California or in another Western state) but I have no idea if they implemented it. Probably not. Another decent report taking up shelf space.

    1. Allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment:

      As a member of the general public, I can tell you that this forms (less so now than a couple years ago), I believe, part of the concern regarding nuclear power.

      Even if the nuclear industry is *great* right now, and well regulated, I think there’s a reasonable fear among people that over time, companies, regulators, and the general public might grow “too comfortable”, and eventually the state of the industry’s safety ‘readyness’ might decline, and then the “safe” nuclear industry in a few decades might become much less safe. How can we ensure “eternal vigilance”?

      Also, I would add one more thing – this is the exact sort of reason that people don’t believe the nuclear industry, when the companies in the industry go to ask for less burdensome regulation. There’s a history of non-nuclear industry’s begging for less strict/expensive regulations, the government granting it, then something terrible happens.

      I know we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but I can completely understand when the general public, and even committed anti-nukes express fear about the industry asking for regulations to be relaxed.

      The rational side of me says, “Sometimes relaxing rules really is appropriate, sometimes it’s not, you have to evaluate these issues on a case-by-case basis”, but for people without time or the educational background to investigate or understand the issues, it just looks bad when the industry asks for regs to be relaxed.

      1. I like to look to the airline industry and its history when discussing nuclear power because on many levels the similarities are greater than the differences. From the 1950’s to 2010 more or less remained flat as a percentage of available seat miles flown. This despite the fact that regulations were somewhat relaxed during the late 1970’s which permitted more players to enter the market.

        However, despite the cries on the unions that safety would suffer, the (US) Airline Deregulation Act clearly stated at the outset that the maintenance of safety was the highest priority in air commerce, and so it remains.

        The key thing is to focus on just what regulations the nuclear industry want relaxed, and not assume that that they are referring to those which will compromise safety.

      2. @Jeff S

        Your interpretation may be relatively common, but it is based on a misunderstanding of the inherent safety issues involved.

        By its very nature, natural gas has to be delivered to the customer using long, vulnerable delivery systems. Nuclear energy is so concentrated that it can be contained in a tiny portion of the still relatively confined space of a nuclear power plant site. The only requirement is for that site to be connected via electric power lines to the customer.

        Natural gas is flammable and explosive. It is inherently dangerous; tritiated water is not.

        The other factor that is hard to explain – but it is important – is the enormous incentive that nuclear plant operators have to maintain their systems so that they keep working and producing revenue. A gas pipeline system does not have anything close to that incentive per mile of pipeline because losing a few customers is just not that big an impact compared to having to shut down an entire facility.

        I do not advocate getting rid of regulations or regulators, I simply ask that they treat nuclear energy like the FAA treats aviation. It is a welcome technology that provides a valuable service; it should not be treated with the assumption that it is somehow an evil that should only be tolerated if it is perfectly executed.

    2. Meredith, I have a similar anecdote from a chemical company I used to work for to emphasize this. Out manufacturing sites brought in some outside contractors to perform a facility siting study. EHS though to themselves that if manufacturing should perform this study so should distribution. We fought it like hell, arguing that we didn’t pose near the facility siting risks as manufacturing did (true enough, not just an excuse) and if the study was done we would be legally bound, from a liability standpoint, to implement all of its recommendations regardless of the cost and associated risk. In the end, corporate EHS won out, we did the study and made all the recommended changes. It cost us a boatload to do it, nearly five times our annual operating and capital project budget for our department.

      If the EHS department of the company in question has a hold of the report, you’d better believe they took the conclusions to heart.

Comments are closed.

Recent Comments from our Readers

  1. Avatar
  2. Avatar
  3. Avatar
  4. Avatar
  5. Avatar

Similar Posts