[Skip to Content]
U.S. Department
of Transportation

Pipeline Safety Stakeholder Communications

Pipeline Safety Connects Us All

Fact Sheet: Equipment Failure

Quick Facts:

  • Equipment failures involve pipeline pumps, compressors, valves, meters, tanks, and other components and devices on pipeline systems. This equipment is oftentimes located on company property that is not accessible to the public.
  • Equipment failures usually result in a release that is contained on company property, typically not resulting in injury to the public.
  • Equipment failures can result in a release of hazardous liquid or natural gas to the environment, though usually in relatively small quantities.

What is Equipment Failure and why does it occur?

An equipment failure involves a pipeline component or device other than pipe. Sometimes a part on the piece of equipment fails resulting in a release, and sometimes the piece of equipment itself fails to perform its function properly resulting in a release. In either case, the failure is identified as “Equipment Failure”.

Some typical types of equipment that can be involved include:

  • Pumps and Compressors – Pumps and compressors are used to move hazardous liquid and natural gas through pipelines.
  • Meters and metering equipment – Meter stations are used on pipelines to measure the amount of product being received or delivered. Many pieces of specialized equipment in addition to the meters themselves are required at these facilities.
  • Remote or manually operated block and control valves – Pipelines contain numerous valves of many types, both on the pipeline itself and at stations, terminals, and tank farms.
  • Relief valves and other overpressure control devices – These devices are installed on a pipeline to prevent rupture of the pipeline due to unexpected pressure surges.
  • Typically, it is the seals or gaskets on the above devices that fail resulting in a small seep or leak; very occasionally, the “body” of the device itself fails. Occasionally the device can fail to perform its function properly, resulting in a failure of the pipeline system elsewhere.
  • Tanks – Most pipeline systems include numerous aboveground storage tanks to store hazardous liquids. Tanks are equipped with level gauges that warn operators that the tank is near its maximum capacity. Instrumentation can fail and tanks can overfill, resulting in a spill of hazardous liquid to the environment. And, while extremely rare, catastrophic failures of the storage tanks themselves have occurred.
  • Misc. Components and Devices – Flanges, fittings, couplings, instrument tubing, gauges, thermowells, samplers, and chemical analyzers are a few examples of the many other pipeline components that can seep or leak (or very occasionally rupture) resulting in an Equipment Failure.

What are the risks from Equipment Failures?

Equipment Failures can result in environmental hazards due to the release of petroleum and natural gas products. Releases from Equipment Failures rarely result in injuries to the public.

What is being done to prevent Equipment Failures?

Regulations require that operators inspect mainline and other critical valves, inspect and test relief valves, and inspect breakout tanks periodically. Additionally, regulations require certain mitigative measures to be in place should a leak occur. For example, should a leak occur at a storage tank, the containment surrounding one or more tanks must have a free volume equivalent to the capacity of the largest tank. Also, facilities housing pumps must have alarm systems that warn of the buildup of hydrocarbons within the enclosed space. In addition, OPS’s Integrity Management regulations require that operators perform rigorous risk assessments of their most critical pipeline facilities in order to fully understand potential failure modes, likelihoods, and consequences, and to establish appropriate preventive and mitigative activities.

Equipment Failure: What more can be done

  • General Public : Be aware of pipeline equipment located near you. Be observant for signs of damage, leakage, or security concerns. Report any concerns you have regarding pipeline safety to the pipeline operator immediately.
  • Industry : Perform inspections and tests in accordance with the requirements of the state and Federal regulations. Track failures and develop inspection programs to monitor for component degradation.
  • Regulators : OPS and state regulators must continue to inspect pipeline operator’s maintenance and operations to ensure that they are complying with all aspects of state and Federal regulations.

Equipment Failure : Where can I learn more?

Date of Revision: 07292014