By Michael Downes
Doug Beck has dedicated his life to safely handling hazardous materials. After retiring from the military, he brought his focus on safety to the pipeline industry.
And now he concentrates on sharing a message of safety and damage prevention with as many Texans as he can.
Doug has been a pipeliner with Phillips 66 since 2015. He said that title means different things at different companies, but in general it entails damage prevention, safety, public outreach and increasing public awareness of pipeline safety issues.
“There’s a lot of outreach,” he said. “My personal opinion is that we make sure that not only are excavators held accountable, but also the oil and gas companies, Class A utilities, telling them they need to step up their game.”
In his position with Phillips 66, he gives a lot of presentations to damage prevention councils, emergency planning commissions, landowners and excavators. Any group of people who live, work or excavate near one of the company’s thousands of miles of pipelines are possible audience members for his message.
“My job is simple, and it can be reduced to one slogan: ‘protect the public,’” Doug said. “Who is the public? It’s homeowners and excavators and everybody else. The only way to protect the public is to protect the pipe.”
Doug works with excavators and homeowners on expectations about working around utilities in order to keep everybody safe. He said some small things can be simple, like when a big company is excavating within 25 feet of one of their large pipelines, they’d like to have someone on site to help ensure damage doesn’t occur. With utility rights-of-way getting ever more crowded, the margin of error gets ever smaller.
“If you’re working 18 inches away from a 30-inch pipe, there’s a danger there,” he said.
Doug is a stickler for knowing and following regulations, procedures and best practices. That likely stems from his 23 years of service in the US Air Force, working with petroleum and cryogenic products and facilities. After he retired from the Air Force, he went to work with Koch Pipeline, handling some of the same petroleum-based products as he did in the military.
He said more education is needed to keep the public and other stakeholders on the same page and keep the community safe.
“The meetings I’ve had with excavators, emergency responders and the public have shown me that there is a significant need for more education and understanding of the current laws and excavation practices that could help to prevent the damages that have led to interrupted services, environmental damages, injuries and deaths,” he said.
But his approach isn’t a heavy-handed, one-sided solution to the problem. Rather, he works with diverse stakeholders to see what works for everybody.
“I spend time with each person I meet, showing them how we can work cooperatively to excavate around utilities and minimize the possibility of damages,” he said.
Doug has advocated for several changes to help keep people safe, including better mapping and more communications interactions with utility companies, especially during the locating process.
“It’s more than going out and throwing flags in the ground and hoping for the best. Digging around utilities is governed by laws, but in the field it has to be a gentleman’s agreement — a cooperative agreement — about what’s going on. If everybody’s not in synch, something could get hit or go wrong,” he said.
But messaging, he said, is one of the biggest ways industry and the public can prevent costly and deadly damages.
“We need a comprehensive damage prevention message that resonates though all aspects of the public, excavators and utility operators,” he said. “Our message needs to emphasize the cooperative relationship between utility operators and excavators toward preventing damages and also stress laws, ordinances and the consequences of not following the laws and ordinances.”
He credits technology with improving locating and mapping processes. That coupled with safe excavation practices like vacuum excavation to determine the exact location of an underground facility will further the goal of getting every company to zero incidents.