PLANO, Texas—Pipeline management must focus on people as clearly as it does on assets, a leading safety management executive told the 3rd annual Pipeline Leadership Conference.

Tom Hutchins, vice president of environmental, health and safety for Kinder Morgan Inc., told attendees in his conference-opening address Nov. 8 that “you can’t do it without people.” Management should remember that “we work in an industry with inherent risks. We need to make sure everyone knows the process. We want everyone to go home safely every day.”

Kinder Morgan emphasizes a “passionate pursuit of perfection” in its safety culture, Hutchins said, something emphasized by Executive Chairman Richard Kinder himself. Hutchins explained that he came to Kinder Morgan through its acquisition of El Paso Natural Gas, a company that emphasized “excellence” in its safety policy.

That isn’t good enough, Kinder once told Hutchins.

“He told me, ‘How can we say anything else? We’re talking about people. You’ve got to do that because we’re talking about personal safety and pipeline integrity,’” Hutchins said the company’s co-founder told him.

“If your emphasis is on the asset, who else is going to know about?” Hutchins added. “But if you lose a pipeline, everyone will know about it.” A company’s safety culture must extend outward to include contractors and vendors as well as employees, he emphasized.

Hutchins has been active in midstream industry associations and is immediate past chairman of the INGAA Foundation.

What Hutchins said he finds utterly shocking is the blasé approach to pipeline safety by the industry’s often-bitter opponents, who supposedly are focused on protecting the environment and public safety. He told about one case of pipeline opponents who vandalized a Kinder Morgan construction site, including punching holes in a diesel storage tank. As a result, hundreds of gallons of fuel spilled over the ground, polluting the soil in the area. The spill could have triggered a fire that would have caused even more damage.

“You would think people who care about the environment wouldn’t do that,” he added.

Despite such hypocrisy from anti-pipeline activists, the industry must listen to and respond to valid criticism of its safety and environmental record. Pipelines do have a splendid operational record “but there is always room for improvement,” Hutchins said, pointing again to pursuing perfection. He added operators need to encourage communication and innovation so old ways of doing things do not lead to unexpected or overlooked safety and environmental incidents. Communication should include reminding the public just how important pipelines are to maintaining comfortable lifestyles.

“Gas pipelines are nothing less than warm winters and cool summers” in modern homes, Hutchins noted, but the public loses its appreciation of that fact.

He mentioned the famous Albert Einstein quote that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If pipeline firms want to improve their safety and environmental records, they will need to change—and perfect—their policies. Communication helps management finds mistakes or flaws that can lead to life-threatening and property-damaging incidents.