The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently levied a fine on Chevron Corp. for their alleged failure to properly maintain pipeline infrastructure and other pieces of critical machinery. Companies looking to avoid these kinds of expenses should adopt equipment condition monitoring equipment and other predictive maintenance solutions to make sure infrastructure never completely breaks down.
According to The Associated Press, the formal notice stems mostly from a 2012 incident in which a pipe first built in the 1970s corroded and released gas into the atmosphere at a Chevron refining facility in Richmond, Calif. Thousands of people in the region were hospitalized as a result of the breakdown.
In the aftermath of the incident, Chevron has paid out close to $12 million in fines and compensation, the AP reported. The company agreed to dispense $2 million in restitution, with the rest going toward medical claims related to the fallout.
"In Richmond, a full, comprehensive inspection of the refinery is ongoing," Chevron spokeswoman Melissa Ritchie said, according to the news source. "To date, we have inspected thousands of individual piping components and are replacing them as necessary based on the results of these inspections."
Why predictive maintenance is more important than ever
For industry observers like Scanimetrics CEO Steven Slupsky, news of this fine should not have come as a surprise to Chevron. In a presentation at the 2013 nanoConnect conference in Edmonton, Slupsky noted that news outlets are paying closer attention to pipeline-related issues in the aftermath of a number of high-profile failures over the past few years. As environmental interest groups put more pressure on government bodies and industry regulators, companies need to be more proactive than ever about equipment monitoring.
As a result of these twin pressures, pipeline operators should be smarter about how they mitigate risk and prevent issues from occurring in the first place. Companies like Chevron have thousands of miles of pipelines to manage, and manually overseeing all of this infrastructure is nearly impossible. Instead, Slupsky said firms should utilize predictive maintenance efforts. This way, enterprises can leverage data-driven insights to determine the areas most at risk of failure and make changes as necessary to prevent issues from cropping up.
"The point of managing risk is not to eliminate risk, but to assess the critical risks and manage them," he said.
Some pipeline-related issues may be totally random, but Slupsky noted that this is almost never the case. By focusing equipment reliability efforts on the areas most at risk, companies can better allocate repair resources and ensure that damaging spills do not occur.