A new era in Pipeline Integrity is changing the risk management game
Jul 5, 2023
By Gideon Ubah, P. Eng, MASc, CQA and David Hillaby P.Eng
Smart data and advanced technologies are shaping an exciting new era in pipeline integrity, one in which owners and operators can rest easier knowing their assets are protected, well maintained, and risks are mitigated.
Both provincial and federal regulatory bodies require pipeline integrity plans. According to the Canada Energy Regulator, the agency requires “companies to test and maintain the integrity of their pipelines. Before the CER will allow a pipeline to become operational, the company has to submit testing results for thorough analysis by CER professional engineers.”
Beyond the obvious requirements to meet all regulatory requirements, companies should consider pipeline integrity management as part of their global commitment to risk and asset management. Assets are exposed to numerous threats that can cause damage or degrade the integrity, from exposure to the natural environment, nearby excavations, corrosion, pitting, loss of wall thickness, all of these can collectively or individually impact the maximum allowable working pressure and ability to safely operate.
The main categories fall under cracks, mechanical damage (strain, dents, and gouges), manufacturing and/or construction defects, equipment failure, and operational failures. As well, it is our estimate that around 75 percent of ruptures are the result of third-party damage. Today, specialists in pipeline integrity have access to sophisticated data gathering technologies that can provide an extremely accurate and real-time assessment of the state of the pipeline asset. Experts analyze this data to determine the best course of action with the least impact.
As a service provider, our approach must always begin with developing a thorough understanding of the unique aspects – or challenges – and history of the section of pipeline or infrastructure under review. This will determine the right approach, technologies, variety of testing, specialized personnel, and data required to develop an integrity plan. For example, natural geography can pose access challenges that require creative solutions. We recently worked on a project situated in an extremely remote and mountainous region that ultimately required the use of helicopters and agile equipment.
There is no challenge that can prevent us from ensuring the safe operation of pipeline assets. Our experience in geohazard remediation looks at every potential risk posed by the natural environment: the seismic zone, unstable embankments, flood risks, shifting slopes of river valleys, to name but a few. Our team members have worked in some of the most challenging circumstances, including sections of pipeline running under a lake and infrastructure sited in deep muskeg and bog. With today’s technology, and a wealth of best practices developed over years of on-the-ground experience, we can say with confidence there is no pipeline that can’t be serviced with a fulsome integrity management plan.
There are several ways to evaluate the integrity, or condition of a pipeline or specific sections of pipeline: in-line or smart pig inspections; direct/indirect inspections; and hydrostatic testing. In-line inspections identify and locate problem areas, or sections requiring further investigation. This process involves an in-line inspection tool – or ‘smart pigging’ – being tethered or pushed through the section of pipeline. The modern equipment within the smart pig includes Magnetic Flux Leakage (MFL) detectors to detect metal loss and corrosion and Electromagnetic Acoustic Transducer (EMAT) to detect cracks
Hydrotesting checks and verifies the pipeline for strength and leaks. With this method, the pipeline is filled and pressurized with water to test for leaks or other issues impacting the required operating pressure. This method is excellent for checking integrity as of the date and time of the test, but it must be paired with other technologies and approaches to give a forward-looking view of potential issues.
Integrity data – and the sheer amount collected can be staggering in terms of gigabytes – is analyzed by engineers and specialists to determine the nature and location of a specific issue and the plan to mitigate it. Results are often validated through integrity digs which match digital data with as-found in the ditch. This is why pipeline integrity management requires a highly specialized and diverse team comprised of mechanical and pipeline engineers, IT and data analysts, chemical engineers to consult on corrosion, and project managers.
At Lauren Services, we’ve invested heavily in the pipeline integrity service offering because we understand how important this is becoming as assets age. We are also anticipating significant growth as the entire upstream and downstream industry heads full speed into the new era of energy transition which will see pipeline application growth in the transport/transmission of hydrogen, ammonia, and carbon dioxide.
Our team has the skill set and tools to support existing programs and integrity teams at larger companies during peak periods and/or as they need help by adding engineering support. We are also nimble and flexible enough to be a good partner for smaller and mid-size upstream and midstream players seeking custom-built services for the provision of integrity and asset management. In fact, that flexibility is built into our approach which we call ‘fit for service’.
Our leads have shaped our integrity offering based on more than 20 years of experience, including management of the Kinder Morgan pipeline and facility integrity group, project management for Inter Pipeline, spread across upstream, midstream, and downstream, involving pipelines and facilities assets.
Turn-key solutions covering the spectrum of prevention, monitoring, inspection, mitigation, assessment, control, and repair of various integrity issues, as well as regulatory compliance and reporting.
We work closely with asset management teams on the client side to develop pipeline and facility
integrity management programs or designing manuals for use by client teams. The options for support are robust and highly customizable. Specific service offerings include:
· pipeline life cycle management
· risk-based inspection
· threat identification, assessment, and management
· baseline inspection
· inspection interval management
· in-line inspection management
· fit-for-service assessment
· pipeline integrity dig/excavation planning and management
· non-destructive examination planning and management
· assessment of digs results and findings
· pipeline and facility repair engineering
· assessment and review for inspection results/findings
· safety and loss management systems
· pipeline and facility risk assessment
· damage and leak prevention
· facility integrity assessment and engineering
· regulatory and third-party audit support
· engineering assessment
· pipeline and facility record document management
· failure and damage investigation
It’s a dynamic time for those of us involved in pipeline integrity management as technology and best practices open new possibilities in our work to help our clients and their stakeholders sleep better at night knowing their valuable pipeline assets are optimized for continued safe and efficient operations.
Learn more about how Lauren Services can help with your pipeline integrity needs.
About the authors:
David Hillaby P.Eng, pipeline and pipeline integrity engineer, is an experienced professional mechanical and pipeline engineer with over 20 years of experience. He was manager of the Kinder Morgan pipeline and facility integrity group and a project manager for InterPipeline, where he participated in investigative dig programs, pipeline discontinuation and abandonment projects. He has provided engineering assessments on operating pressure increases, third-party damage, third-party crossings, and other issues impacting the integrity of the pipelines.
Gideon Ubah, P. Eng, MASc, CQA, pipeline and facility integrity engineer, brings over 13 years of experience in integrity and reliability engineering in the oil and gas and energy sector. He has a wealth of experience with integrity documents and program development. He is also a Quality Auditor with experience in corporate and field program audits, ensuring compliance with regulations and
integrity programs. He has worked for CNRL, Alliance Pipeline, TC Energy; and CNOOC.