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U.S. Department
of Transportation

Pipeline Safety Stakeholder Communications

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Fact Sheet: Natural Force Damage

Quick Facts:

  • Natural Force Damage is one subset of what is sometimes referred to as “Outside Force Damage”.
  • Natural Force Damage includes those types of incidents caused by acts of nature such as flooding, earthquakes, and lightning.
  • Natural Force Damage causes a relatively small percentage of overall pipeline failures, however, when they do occur, they can sometimes result in catastrophic failures and large release volumes.

What is Natural Force Damage and why does it occur?

Natural Force Damage occurs as a result of naturally occurring events.

Naturally occurring events can include:

  • Earth movement, landslides, and subsidence, including earthquakes
  • Heavy rains and flooding, including riverbed scouring and washouts
  • High winds, tornadoes, or hurricanes
  • Temperature extremes such as when cold weather causes frost heaves or frozen instrumentation lines
  • Lightning

The energy pipeline network extends throughout the entire United States, and includes both onshore and offshore pipelines. As a result, pipelines are subjected to the full range of naturally occurring events.

What are the risks from Natural Force Damage?

Natural Force Damage can – and sometimes does - result in some relatively large-scale pipeline failures due to the potential for extremely large and unpredictable forces to act upon pipelines and their associated facilities. Some of these forces can be anticipated and designed for; some cannot. In those few cases where facilities cannot be designed to withstand every possible eventuality, mechanisms are put in place to either control or mitigate the potential threat, such as valves being installed on either side of an earthquake fault line.

Pipeline failure rates from Natural Force Damage

OPS reports that for the period 2002 through 2003, approximately 9% of incidents for hazardous liquid pipelines and approximately 16% of incidents for natural gas transmission pipelines are attributable to Natural Force Damage.

What is being done to prevent Natural Force Damage?

Pipeline design and construction regulations require that operators identify, assess, and design for known geotechnical conditions and anticipated meteorological events. In addition, integrity management regulations require pipeline operators to conduct risk assessments on an ongoing basis to identify all potential threats, including those associated with Natural Force Damage, and – once identified – to implement preventive and/or mitigative measures to counteract these potential threats.

Natural Force Damage: What more can be done

  • Public: Be aware of pipelines located near you. Be observant for signs of pipeline damage, leakage, or security concerns. Report any concerns you have regarding pipeline safety to the pipeline operator immediately. Always respect the pipeline right-of-way. In the area of pipelines, be observant of changes to soils and vegetation, possible earth movement, or other possible conditions that could stress pipelines and report such incidents to the pipeline operator immediately. Note any suspicious activity that may be related to vandalism at above ground facilities, such as valve sites or pumping stations, and report to your local public safety official and the pipeline operator immediately
  • Industry: Pipeline operators and industry stakeholders can continue to monitor and share industry experience with these types of occurrences in order to better understand the nature of these forces as well as the effectiveness of the preventive and mitigative measures that were employed. Operators can fully explore the potential for these threats to exist during their ongoing risk assessment process, and respond accordingly.
  • Regulators: OPS and state regulators must continue to inspect newly constructed pipelines as well as operators’ integrity management programs to ensure they are effectively identifying and assessing these potential threats and are implementing appropriate activities in a timely manner

Natural Force Damage : Where can I learn more?

Date of Revision: 07232014