Only Game in Town
When you are the only game in
town, you can get away with almost anything. Some pipelines know they are
your only choice. When this happens they will let you know. However, this
may come to you very subtly. For instance, if they set up the contract
parameters and all you do is sign. If they tell you the meter will be tested
semi-annually or annually and the contract or gas tariff reads something
like this; "If an error is found in the meter test then the volume of gas
shall be corrected, but not beyond the beginning of the preceding month". If
so desired, this could be used as a license to measure your gas
incompetently for up to 10 months per year. The Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission (FERC) has okayed tariffs with this concept!
Measurement personnel know that
errors made in measurement almost always effect readings on the low side.
When 16 or 31 day charts are used instead of 7 or 8 day charts the
resolution suffers greatly and errors will exist in the interpretation of
the recorded values, unless the gas flow is extremely steady. When too large
an orifice plate is used resolution is lost. When a meter tube is dirty, low
recordings result. If a technician installs an orifice plate backward the
error is negative. If an orifice plate is damaged the resulting error is
almost always negative.
In previous years most pipeline companies held high standards. But now,
these standards are eroding. The gas industry began developing electronic
flow measurement devices (EFM) several years ago. These devices generally
measure gas with one second samples. EFM's have improved accuracies in the
initial measuring stages. However, data handling still has much room for
improvement as there are many different ways of handling EFM files; some
good, some not so good.
Charts and Records or Equivilent Data
The second party to a gas contract no longer has access to original
recorded data in a form that is of much use when EFM measurement is used.
How do you know if the data you are auditing is untouched?
Most pipeline companies do not have a cost effective way to censor the
EFM data in the way that charts were censored and edited. Much of the data
is left as it was recorded, right or wrong.
Bullet proof audit trails of EFM data are scarce. Delivering EFM data for
a particular well to allow inspection by the second party of a contract is
not something that most pipeline companies have mastered.
The gas producer (or second party) must have a gas measurement witness to
plead his cause. If a witness does not confirm pipeline company test
schedules, then the meter station may get passed over. Remember, "The
squeaky wheel gets the grease"
Dodging the Bullet!
In many situations the pipeline company knows it is in error. However, a
wait and see attitude seems to be the rule for correcting errors. If the
second party does nothing to recover the loss due to error, then usually
nothing happens. Sometimes the pipeline will push the second party into
legal action by no response or giving a general response to your
scientifically detailed request such as, "We do not concur with your
findings", just to see if you will force their hand.
Many pipeline companies have only a fraction of the gas measurement staff
that was in place prior to 1993. One of Oklahoma's largest gas pipeline
companies has cut it's gas measurement staff in the field by 63 percent.
Companies are assigning "Areas" to their field employees. The employee is
responsible for all pipeline maintenance within these "Areas". While cross
training is an effective cost saving practice, the downside is that pipeline
maintenance technicians may not be qualified for operation and maintenance
of the new electronic meters as well as the mechanical complexities of the
bellows type meters. Aquiring the knowledge and skills sufficient to
maintain all equipment within these "Areas" causes the employees to overload
on information. Technicians are no longer specialists within their field.
Some pipeline companies have degenerated to the point of having a certain
percentage of incompetent technicians. Each of our technicians has several
stories observing incompetence among pipeline measurement personel. HGMI
technicians have had to train the technician being witnessed and even had to
take over and perform the calibration in several instances.
Without a witness your meters may not get tested. Some technicians tell
us, "I will test meters when I get around to it, because I have other things
that must be done". Another technician of a major pipeline company sent a
letter asking HGMI to "drive his test schedule" and "please let me know when
you want me to test our meters" . The priority of maintaining the "cash
register" is at the lowest level in years.
Some pipelines use "Slight of hand" meter station test scheduling. A
meter station scheduled for testing in January might be switched to another
technician who then sets up his own schedule. The new technician will
inadvertantly schedule the next test in April or even as late as August.
HGMI monitors when the meter should be tested according to pipeline
company procedures. Pipeline company technicians often call us to find out
which of their meters need to be tested for each month.
Accuracy Called Into Question!
Questionable practices are being used by several pipeline companies.
Practices such as, oversized orifice plates, extremely slow clock rotations,
prolonged test intervals, and poorly trained technicians are becoming more
common place. These kinds of practices were virtually unheard of for large
pipelines prior to 1993. At least one major pipeline began using these
practices in 1993 and now we are seeing many pipelines follow suit.
Remember, profit without conscience is the policy maker for this new breed
of corporations. There is no allegience to fairness through accuracy, or
employees, as only profit is the guide. Other corporations with good
intentions are being sucked into this lowering of standards due to stiff
competion. These practices allow the company to save money by making one or
two trips per month to a meter station instead of four or five. The same
quantity reduction is realized for the number of charts to process.