THE PIPESPEC 2006 forum held in Amsterdam on 6-8 March, organized by Global Pipeline Monthly (a sister publication of The Journal of PIpeline Intergrity) on behalf of the European Pipeline Research Group (EPRG) and the International Pipe Line & Offshore Contractors’ Association (IPLOCA), provided a fascinating opportunity for all sides involved in high-strength steel pipeline design, manufacture, and construction to meet and freely discuss the opportunities and conflicts that the industry is currently facing.
The Forum had initially been planned to consider the issues facing the industry resulting from the forecast lack of both raw materials (steel) and pipe-manufacturing capacity as a result of the large number of significant oil and gas pipelines being planned for the next decade. This situation has also recently been highlighted by the US-based FERC, commenting on the trans-Alaska pipeline to recover ‘stranded’ gas in Alaska and transport it to the Lower 48. Pointing out that both the trans-Alaska and the Mackenzie Valley pipeline projects were, to a certain extent, in conflict, FERC recently pointed out that: "Industry reports indicate that there will not be enough pipeline-grade steel available to construct both projects at the same time." However, as the planning for the PipeSpec event progressed, it was agreed by the organizing committee that – although this subject was of paramount importance in the macrocosm – the microcosm of ‘alignment’ between the various sides of the multi-faceted industry was of more immediate relevance. Discussions at the event were consequently guided towards the issue of aligning pipeline material supply towards market needs.
The concept of the Forum in Amsterdam was based on providing the broadest possible opportunity for delegates to openly discuss a range of important issues surrounding this topic in such a way that, it was hoped, a consensus could be reached about how the industry should progress into the future. The event began with five brief scene-setting opening addresses from each sector of the pipeline industry, following which the meeting was split into five working groups to discuss certain questions in greater depth. These groups reported back to a plenary session, the issues were summarized, and further topics for working-group discussions proposed; this process was then repeated a third time, so that over the two-day event there was plenty of opportunity for all views to be expressed and refined. In order to ensure that the eventual outcome of the group’s discussions would be both as representative as possible, and as useful as possible for the future, professional facilitation was provided under the leadership of Dr Alan Patterson of UK-based Marketing Statements Ltd.
The opening addresses were given by Peter Schwengler of E.ON Ruhrgas (a pipeline operator’s view), Andreas Liessem of Europipe (a manufacturer’s view), Colin McKinnon of JP Kenny (a design contractor’s view), Hein Mulder of Heerema (a contractor’s view), and Alain Hersent of Serimer Dasa (a sub-contractor’s view). Each of these supported the purpose of the Forum, acknowledging the need for greater communications between different sides of the industry. In particular, Andreas Liessem’s talk was of specific interest as, through prior discussions, he was able to present the combined views of various competing pipe manufacturing companies.
For the first working-group discussions, the delegates were split into groups relating to industry interests: operators, construction contractors, design contractors, specialist contactors, and linepipe suppliers. Observing each of these discussions over the two hours during which they took place showed clearly that the delegates were more than willing to be very open with their views, and more than willing to ensure that they co-operated as actively as possible with each other for the common good, a testament to the success of the ideas behind the meeting. As the first day progressed, there was a plenary session at which presentations from each of the five working groups were made, and this was followed by a stimulating presentation from Marcelino Gomes, Director of Pipelines and Terminals of Petrobras-Transpetro in Brazil. Marcelino gave a comprehensive and well-produced overview of Brazil’s expanding pipeline industry, highlighting the significant opportunities, both in his country and in the surrounding region, both for Brazilian companies as well as for those from outside the area.
On the second day of the event, following some further planning by the organizing committee the previous evening, the approximately 100 delegates were broken up into different groups in each of which there was an equal number of representatives from each side of the industry. The themes for their first discussions had evolved as a result of reviewing the reports received the previous afternoon, and were summarized under the headings ‘Behaviour’, ‘Standards’, ‘Innovation’, ‘Communication’, and ‘Resource’.
The same pattern as for the first day was followed, and embraced with enthusiasm by all involved. Again, an outside observer would have seen great animation and "buy-in" in each of the workshop rooms, emphasizing the importance of the issues, the willingness of delegates to openly discuss the topics and share their concerns, and the relevance of the topics under debate.
In the final workshop session, which extended over a working lunch, each delegate was allowed to choose the discussion group they wished to attend. The themes were retained from the earlier session, but one big difference was that a financial objective was introduced by Graham Freeth of BP, once of the instigators of the whole event. Each of the workshop groups was now asked to propose up to three specific new projects to meet the aims of the group, and Graham promised to provide funding to allow the three best of these to be initiated. All the projects would be introduced by their supporters at the final plenary session, and voted on by the delegates to see which came top.
The groups came up with eight project ideas, two of which became incorporated into others, leaving a list of six, shown below. It was agreed that each project would require a leader, and these were also nominated, as follows:
1 Establishment of INPIPECo – Peter Schwengler
Set up a new company to act as an intermediary between technology suppliers and their clients to optimize supply-chain ‘know-how’ and innovation opportunities.
2 Specification rationalization – Gerhard Knauf
Investigate ways to reduce misunderstandings, reduce design time, and reduce over-specification for the benefit of all concerned.
3 Creation of a new business model – Colin McKinnon [incorporate 8th place project: New framework (leader: Ian Pett)]
Investigate ways in which all parties to a project can be involved at the earliest possible opportunity, instead of at the last feasible moment.
4 Grants and mentoring at universities – Marcelino Gomes
Looking to the future, to establish ways in which graduates can be encouraged to become pipeline engineers.
5 Early involvement – Gurdial Singh [incorporate 7th place project Early and open communications (no leader nominated)] Find ways in which project information can be equably shared far earlier than currently, to allow longer-term relationships to be established fairly and openly.
6 Benchmark supply chain – David Shaw
It happens elsewhere, so why not for the pipeline industry?
During the meeting the concepts of "early involvement" and "understanding customer requirements" were recurring themes during the discussions, and the projects chosen can be seen to reflect these. At the same time, it was pointed out that meetings such as this had been held on a number of occasions in recent years, and little had changed despite the enthusiasm expressed each time around. Also, the "stifling" of innovation by blind adherence to standards was seen as regular way for those who were unsure of themselves to avoid taking a decision that involved innovative processes or procedures.
Despite these negative aspects, the meeting was full of enthusiasm and determination that changes could be made, and that the time was not too late to do so. One definite outcome was that all the documentation and presentations from the meeting have been uploaded onto the EPRG web site for participants’ information, and presentations on the projects chosen will be made at the next IPLOCA general meeting in September. It is also hoped that those who could not attend, or who are not members of IPLOCA, etc., can be brought into the ambit of the initiatives.
One of the hardest issues following such a meeting is to retain the enthusiasm and commitment expressed at the time. We look forward to EPRG, IPLOCA, and BP focusing their resources to do this, and to the project leaders and their voluntary contributors being able to maintain their momentum. While all the ideas are excellent and – if implemented – will certainly change industry for the better, the level of leadership and time-commitment required is high. It was a credit to all involved in PipeSpec2006 that cynicism seemed to have been left at the entrance to the hotel, alongside coats and umbrellas: we hope that it was not collected and put on again as delegates left.