El Paso’s Dan Martin Determined To Prove Safety Is ‘Job One’ With Pipelines

By Jeff Share, Editor | April 2011 Vol. 238 No. 4

I’ve always wondered, why do men and women enter the pipeline business?
Some would say it’s a special calling, vital for our lifestyles, and with it comes a special satisfaction in seeing a complicated job through to completion. It certainly can’t be the long hours away from home, the remote locations that pipeline workers are often sent for weeks, months, or even years on end, or the steady thumping of the ‘not in my backyard’ naysayers who reap the benefits — just as long as the projects don’t come close to their properties or otherwise touch their lives.

Chances are the answer has more to do with the constant challenge of designing and constructing needed pipeline infrastructure, putting pipe in the ground, and transporting natural gas and other energy fuels to consumers to meet market demand.

Today, more than 30 years after he first interviewed for a such a job more than 2,000 miles away from his home in the Northeast U.S., Dan Martin can’t exactly explain why he left his native Maine and became a pipeliner for the company that today is El Paso Corporation. According to Martin, 55, who earned a degree in civil engineering from the University of Maine, “I got into the industry right out of college. I didn’t know a great deal about it, but it provided an opportunity for me to see different things and start a challenging career.

“I have been immensely pleased since day one of starting work,” recalled the grandfather of two during a recent interview in his Houston office.

Today, he finds himself squarely in the middle of dealing with even more challenges, some of the most important challenges that likely have ever been faced by the natural gas pipeline industry, as a series of incidents — some fatal — have brought attention to the industry and operating companies. As such, Martin is one of many industry executives who are involved in reviewing operating guidelines and standards and bringing forth recommendations to improve pipeline construction, operations, integrity, and safety.

Martin is the 2011 chairman of The INGAA Foundation, a non-profit organization funded by pipeline companies, contractors, and service providers under the aegis of The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA). Parenthetically, in 2010, Martin was named to the new post of Senior Vice President, Pipeline Safety, for El Paso Corporation, charged with overseeing the company’s pipeline safety programs in furtherance of the company’s commitment to safety.

During the interview, Martin outlined his goals as INGAA Foundation chairman. Much of the interview involved the implications of operating – and safety-related issues surrounding the San Bruno tragedy that killed eight Californians last September. There have been several legislative bills proposed and he also discussed the “Pipeline Transportation Safety Improvement Act of 2011” proposed Feb. 3 by Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), Chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Surface Transportation, and Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), Chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

The senators say the bill would strengthen pipeline safety oversight by the federal government while addressing long-standing safety issues, such as the use of automatic shutoff valves. One provision sure to find favor among pipeliners would be the elimination of exemptions and the requirement that all local and state government agencies and their contractors notify One-Call centers before digging.