Keeping Pipelines Safe

Proactive Inspections

Pipeline operators proactively inspect their pipelines on regular schedules looking for any potential issues and ensuring the pipe remains safe. Inspection results will confirm a clean bill of health, diagnose a potential problem or help prescribe maintenance to correct the issue. Being proactive allows pipeline operators to find and fix issues before they become a problem.

Pipeline operator inspecting pipeline.
Smart pig graphic

Hi-Tech Inspection Tools

Pipeline operators use high-tech devices to scan their pipelines for potential issues. Inspection tools called “smart pigs” travel inside the pipe scanning the pipe wall for signs of dents, corrosion or possible cracking. Smart pigs use technology similar to an ultrasound or an MRI found at a doctor’s office. Sophisticated digital analysis allows operators to review the inspection data and predict when a pipe needs maintenance.

Preventive Maintenance

Pipeline operators perform preventative maintenance on their pipes to address potential issues before they become a problem. For example, a "smart pig" inspection may tell a pipeline operator a small amount of corrosion is starting to form on the pipe. It does not yet pose a problem for the pipe, but needs maintenance to remove and keep the pipe in safe condition. 

The pipeline operator will go out to the pipe segment with an identified issue and perform the appropriate maintenance, such as reapplying protective coating, installing a patch or sleeve around the pipe or replacing that section of pipe.

Preventive maintenance allows a pipeline to continue operating safely over time. U.S. National Transportation Safety Board Chair Deborah Hersmann confirmed, "If a pipeline is adequately maintained and inspected, age is not an issue."

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Safety Rules & Regulations

Multiple layers of federal and state pipeline safety laws, rules and regulations help keep pipeline safety. Federal pipeline regulators through the U.S.

'Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, inspect pipeline operators and levy fines for violations if needed. State pipeline safety regulators also oversee pipeline operations.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board investigates serious pipeline incidents and provides recommendations for improved pipeline safety.


24/7 Pipeline Monitoring

Pipeline operators monitor their pipelines from a central control center 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Specially trained controllers keep a watchful eye over systems monitoring pipeline pressure, flow and volume. Operator personnel patrol along the pipeline route and personnel in airplanes or helicopters travel overhead the length of the pipeline on a regular schedule looking for signs of leaks. Pipeline operators can quickly shut down a pipeline if monitoring technology suspects a leak. From their central control centers, pipeline operators will remotely stop pumps and close isolation valves. Pipeline control personnel are trained to shut down their systems, diagnose whether an alarm is showing a leak, and not restart until personnel determine the pipeline is operating safely.

Pipeline operator monitoring pipelines through computer screens.

Pipeline Design & Construction

Pipelines are designed to fit their operating use and conditions. The steel must be certified as meeting industry and federal government quality requirements for toughness and strength.Construction personnel, such as pipe welders, must have qualification certifications, which are part of the pipeline inspection.

Welds at the connection of pipe segments along the pipeline must be inspected for quality. An x-ray or ultrasonic scan ensures there are no defects in the connection.An assembled pipeline must still undergo pre-operational testing before it is allowed to go into service.

Operators pump water into the pipeline and hold it at high pressure to demonstrate there are no leaks in the pipe or its weld joints. Any construction issues are repaired before the pipe is operational. After construction, the site is remediated and in the case of farmland can return to its original use.

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Before and after pipeline design and construction
Environmental protection graphic

Environmental Protection

Pipeline operators design the routes of their lines to avoid environmentally sensitive areas. One major project adjusted its originally proposed route over 140 times to avoid sensitive locations. Operators will also try to follow along utility corridors that already have an existing pipeline and thereby minimize new impacts.

Newly constructed pipelines avoid contact with major waterbodies by tunneling deep beneath them. Before a pipeline reaches a waterbody shoreline, horizontal directional drilling (HDD) can burrow the pipeline 100' or more beneath the bottom of a waterbody, never coming into contact or close to the water itself. '

Pipeline operations are also a big part of environmental protection. Proactive inspections and preventive maintenance help prevent pipeline incidents. 24/7 monitoring, rapid shutdown and emergency response training and drill help keep the impact of any pipeline incident as small as possible.

Ready for An Emergency

Pipeline operators prepare extensive emergency response plans reviewed by regulators and shared with local first responders and officials so that if an incident does occur, everyone knows in advance who to call, what to bring and what to do.

Pipeline operators regularly train their employees and practice their emergency plans to be ready for a pipeline incident. Operators hold drills simulating an incident and practicing their response. Operators will even practice deploying containment and cleanup equipment to make sure everything is ready to go if needed.

Pipeline operators work with local authorities, first responders, response contractors and other local stakeholders to practice and be ready for a pipeline incident. Operators share their emergency response plans with local officials to ensure a coordinated response to an incident. 

The pipeline industry is funding free, online training for first responders to gain pipeline specific response training. Pipeline operators also provide tuition and expenses for local firefighters to attend pipeline emergency training.

Firefighters preparing for an emergency response.


Pipeline operators love getting out in the field, using their hi-tech tools, performing their engineering analysis and practicing their response plans. All of this work to keep pipelines safe provides great videos, fact sheets and toolkits. Access them here: