Protecting Our Communities
Safety — above all else — includes protecting the public and our local communities. Our goal is to operate our assets safely and responsibly, while also ensuring the public understands our operating practices and is aware of critical safety facts related to pipelines and natural gas.
We frequently communicate with local communities near our operations to raise awareness of our activities, convey key safety information, and address any questions or concerns. One way we do this is by mailing an annual safety brochure to residents and businesses located near our pipelines to keep them informed of our operations. We also engage with local first responders, public works employees, elected officials, school districts, and other key community leaders. This engagement, which may occur in-person or virtually, involves informing them of our operational processes, providing pipeline-related educational resources, listening to their thoughts and feedback, and building relationships through group meetings, personal contact, and targeted distribution of print materials. A few examples of the topics we address include:
- Activities occurring along relevant pipeline routes or at pipeline compressor station facilities
- Types of equipment used at a particular site
- Preventative measures taken to reduce potential hazards and ensure pipeline integrity
- How to avoid right-of-way encroachments
- How to identify pipeline leaks and the appropriate response to a leak
- Equitrans’ emergency and crisis response plan
- The appropriate community response for various incident scenarios
Our engagement helps to increase awareness of the presence of pipelines in local communities, our commitment to public safety, and the general role of pipelines in transporting energy. It is our goal to convey to the public that while pipeline accidents are possible, pipelines are a safe mode of energy transportation. We undertake strong measures to prevent pipeline accidents, and work to anticipate and plan for the management of accidents in the rare instance they occur. It is our belief that a well-informed public, particularly those who are near pipeline routes, enhances the safety measures we employ. Importantly, public awareness of nearby pipelines assists in minimizing the potential for pipeline emergencies or releases due to third-party damage or right-of-way encroachments.
One of the greatest challenges to safe pipeline operations is potential accidental damage caused by excavation, directional drilling, construction, farming activities, or homeowner activities. To ensure public safety, we urge stakeholders to utilize the “Call 811 Before You Dig” program is available across the United States. By calling 811 before digging, everyone can play an important part in protecting public safety by ensuring that a pipeline is not unintentionally damaged. The national program directly connects a caller to their state’s One Call Center where they can report their planned digging project. The One Call Center will then communicate this information to all local underground utilities that mark the locations of their pipelines on the property where the project is taking place. In our home state of Pennsylvania, we are directly involved in the Pennsylvania 811 Safety Day conference as a sponsor. The annual Safety Day provides safety education to the excavation and utility industries through hands-on demonstrations with tools and techniques, as well as discussions on new safety theories.
Equitrans knows public education and outreach increases pipeline safety, as well as reduces the chance of third parties creating potential emergencies or accidental releases due to lack of understanding of our operations and right-of-way encroachments. Equitrans' Public Awareness Program works to raise public awareness of pipelines in our communities and improve stakeholders' knowledge about the function pipelines play in transporting energy. We have taken considerable measures to develop stakeholder brochures to identify audience demographics, to include affected public, emergency officials, public officials, excavators, and state One-Call Centers. We offer several communication channels to help stakeholders understand the steps they can take should a pipeline incident occur and to prevent pipeline events through the use of the state’s One Call System. Stakeholder communications consist of:
- Pipeline awareness packets mailed to stakeholders
- Business reply cards to measure the understanding of the content in the brochure;
- In-person and webinar meetings
- A self-paced online training platform for stakeholders to allow exposure to pipeline response training and damage prevention efforts (contracted consultant, Paradigm)
- An Emergency Response Portal that provides operators with a secure, cost-effective location from which to publish and distribute their emergency response plans on a secure site to local emergency response officials (contracted consultant, Paradigm)
In an effort to provide operator training sessions to stakeholders during the pandemic, virtual meetings were held to convey the required information and provide effective stakeholder and operator participation. Though somewhat challenging, the virtual meetings were successful and were able to meet regulatory requirements. With the pandemic restrictions being lifted, we expect operator training sessions will be provided both in-person and virtually in 2022.
Evaluating Our Approach to Public Safety
We continuously evaluate the effectiveness of our approach to public safety awareness to verify that local communities near our pipelines are aware of the proximity of natural gas lines in their neighborhoods and to provide general safety information regarding natural gas pipeline operations. To do this, we utilize two evaluation methods: a third-party survey of local community members; and community group meetings hosted by third-party organizations.
Our telephone and postal surveys use a three-step approach to complete the evaluation process. The first step is the set-up, in which we design the survey with the intent to measure the scope of our public outreach and its effectiveness in conveying desired content, the clarity of the outreach content, and the content’s effect on desired safety awareness and behaviors. Next is the execution phase of the process when the surveys are conducted for selected local community members. During the execution phase, we target completing 400 surveys per identified audience to ensure we obtain a statistically significant sample. Last, during the reporting and analysis phase, we compile the survey results and complete a final report. This final report includes results for each survey question and the three intended measures of the survey outlined in the first step.
Our evaluation process for local community group meetings consists of two approaches. We first consider the people and organizations that attended each meeting to measure the scope of our public outreach and the effectiveness of the content we conveyed. Second, each person or organization that attends a meeting receives a survey card which includes questions regarding their knowledge of pipelines, their thoughts on the effectiveness of the meeting program, and the usefulness of the meeting program to their daily activities. Based upon the responses to these questions, we can measure the clarity of the outreach content, and the content’s effect on desired safety awareness and behaviors.
Leveraging the results of these evaluation methods allows us to make general changes to our public safety awareness programs, make changes to address specific issues, or continue with the programs as they currently exist, unless a significant decrease in effectiveness is apparent from the evaluation methods.
Crisis Preparedness and Response
A crisis is defined as any situation that is critical and/or sensitive to the Company and, if not addressed or managed appropriately and promptly, could have an adverse impact on the Company’s operations, business, and reputation. A crisis may occur at any time, involve a single individual or many people, be inside or outside the Company, and/or be created by a sudden, tragic, dangerous, and/or volatile issue or event that demands quick action or by an emerging issue that is sustained and does not disappear after a short period. Crises come in many forms, including operational, natural disasters, and other man-made disasters. Regardless of the crisis, an appropriate and timely response is critical.
Equitrans recognizes that a crisis requires coordinated efforts for immediate response and corrective action. When executed correctly, an effective response serves to minimize risk and damage, emphasize safety, reduce internal and external confusion, and ensure appropriate information is conveyed to stakeholders as needed.
Crisis Management Plan
Equitrans’ Crisis Management Plan (Crisis Plan) is designed to provide an enterprise-wide management process and structure to enable appropriate levels of communications and response to major events or potential crisis situations. Equitrans’ Crisis Plan, which we require to be reviewed annually, is the key resource for the Company to effectively manage communications during a range of emergencies. The Plan is designed to manage and execute a crisis response, in line with the Company’s six “Crisis Incident Classifications,” which are categorized as follows:
- Operational – fires, explosions, accidents, serious injuries, fatalities, spills/discharges
- Security – criminal acts, workplace violence, landowner threats, protests
- Business/Financial – significant legal disputes, dramatic stock falls, activist shareholders, significant liquidity, credit or capital constraints, customer-related issues
- Information Technology – data loss, system failures, hacking or other cyberattacks or compromises of technology
- Regional / Industry – terrorism, natural disaster, industry and/or competitor-related incidents
- Health / Safety – pandemic, localized natural disaster, building closures, inclement weather
Equitrans has designated cross-functional crisis management teams (CMTs) and incident commanders that are activated, in accordance with the Crisis Plan, in response to crises. The Crisis Plan outlines roles and responsibilities, courses of action, delegated authorities, and instructions for various CMT members, as well as communication protocols. In the event of a crisis, the incident commander is responsible for leading the crisis response effort and coordinates with executive management team members who provide overall executive level oversight with respect to the crisis and are responsible for ensuring that the Company’s Board of Directors is timely apprised of the crisis and related material developments.
As part of our initial approach to a crisis, an alert will be sent out to internal affected parties through the Company’s electronic alert system, or other methods, as appropriate. We also seek to coordinate with appropriate first responders, government agencies, and elected officials in emergencies.
In addition to the Crisis Plan, Equitrans maintains specific incident response plans to be referenced in the event of a certain type of crisis (e.g., in respect of spills or incidents at compressor or dehydration stations). These specific incident response plans provide guidance regarding, for example and as applicable, operational matters, and roles and responsibilities specific to the type of crisis.
Preparation Is Critical
Adequate preparation is critical for taking quick and effective action during an emergency response. We conduct regular crisis drills and routinely review crisis plans to ensure we are prepared in the event of an emergency. We conduct training sessions for our incident commanders and crisis coordinators to provide updates on our processes and procedures, reinforce existing protocols, and further prepare for potential incidents and crisis events. Additionally, following an incident, Equitrans pursues a reporting and analysis debrief to identify any safety gaps or further precautionary measures that should be evaluated for implementation. Equitrans also evaluates its designations of CMT personnel on a quarterly basis to ensure appropriate CMT staffing and to verify CMT contact information.
Externally, Equitrans routinely meets with local first responders to inform them of our work, discuss coordination, provide trainings, and educate them regarding midstream industry crisis management strategies. Equitrans also offers follow-up training sessions to first responders on an annual basis, and we offer firefighters tours of our facilities. We often donate to first responder organizations in our local communities to enhance capabilities, increase safety preparedness, and strengthen our relationships.
Additionally, Equitrans reaches out to landowners and homeowners located along a pipeline right-of-way or near our facilities to inform them of the potential risks our operations could have on nearby homes and to review evacuation plans in case of an emergency. Equitrans provides its hotline number to nearby landowners or homeowners, as well as important contact information for local emergency responders. By keeping local community members informed of our practices, Equitrans demonstrates that safety is our number one priority and is a fundamental requirement for our assets to operate at high standards of integrity.