US government and industry pipeline R&D forum
FEBRUARY 7-8 this year saw an important meeting being held in New Orleans to discuss pipeline research in the US (and, to a certain extent, elsewhere), hosted by the US Office of Pipeline Safety and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Eleven government and industry organizations, working through a steering committee, had organized and planned the Forum, which brought together over 240 delegates representing the US and Canadian government regulators, US and international gas and hazardous liquid pipeline operators, key research providers, and technology vendors. The Forum’s goals included identifying the current key challenges facing the industry and government, sharing information on research efforts, and identifying future research that can help to meet these challenges.
The main high-level challenges facing industry and government were identified as including:
Ø maintaining the safety, security, and reliability of an ageing pipeline infrastructure;
Ø managing significant forecasted increases in energy demand forecasts;
Ø fostering development of new technologies and strengthening industry consensus standards;
Ø increasing R&D funding and leveraging R&D resources, while improving R&D performance;
Ø improving an effective technology-transfer programme though stakeholder communication; and
Ø protecting the environment while transporting new fuels to meet expanding energy needs
The Forum opened with a keynote address on perspectives on energy pipelines from the DOT/PHMSA Administrator, Vice Admiral Thomas J Barrett. Admiral Barrett spoke of his department’s successful ‘enterprise approach’ to addressing pipeline safety research and development in the face of many new challenges, some of which were the creation of new standards for frontier regions (such as the Arctic, and deep subsea), the perennial issue of corrosion (where the understanding and analysis of data has a long way to go), integrity management (where he wondered how much more research is required), the integration of successive inspection data, and the increasing importance of smaller-diameter pipe. As Admiral Barrett pointed out, creating new infrastructure is easy: looking after the old infrastructure requires far more effort, and is where improved technological solutions – taken, perhaps, from other industries – can be best applied.
Speakers representing the PHMSA and the PRCI, and high-level industry leaders representing hazardous liquid and gas transmission and distribution pipeline organizations, including the In-Line Inspection Association, went on to identify the some of the most important technical challenges facing their organizations: strengthening standards and risk-management tools for use by operators and regulators, locating underground utilities, developing and applying effective encroachment-enforcement techniques, determining real corrosion/crack growth rates, building consensus standards for confirmatory direct assessment practices, developing new tools for rapid detection of SCC, confirming and testing new tools for detecting and sizing defects, understanding causes and effects of damage from weather-related pipeline movement, developing alternative repair methods, and assessing risks of using the existing infrastructure to transport alternative gases such as hydrogen and carbon dioxide.
Past meetings of this type have identified a number of R&D opportunities to address pipeline challenges; unfortunately, many previous government-developed technologies have not been transferred to the marketplace because they lacked industry champions. With this in mind, the 2007 Forum steering committee incorporated an agenda item on key challenges facing industry, which resulted in discussions on how to coordinate R&D more effectively in a government/industry partnership. Participants discussed the need to face increasing environmental challenges as well as issues arising from interchangeability of products being transported and gas quality. Additional issues included the use of declining R&D funds, ageing workforces and an increasing skills shortage, and approaches to effectively communicate new initiatives and their progress both with the industry and with the wider society. While the outcomes of such meetings have perhaps been unsuccessfully implemented in the past, it was clear that this time the steering committee members and their organizations expect to use the outcome of this Forum as a real basis for planning the actions needed to support collaborative research and development for the energy pipeline infrastructure.
Speakers from three industry segments next discussed their views on current issues. The first of these was Robert Howard, vice-president of gas transmission and distribution with Pacific Gas & Electric Corporation. He focused on a recent study by INGAA and others comparing R&D funding for the gas industry with similar industries. The findings showed clearly that funding levels for research in this area have decreased drastically over the past decade. “The reduction in R&D funding ahs almost eliminated long-term basic research, while current funding is focused [only] on near-term developments”, he said. Pointing out that the R&D intensity in the US pipeline industry proportionately spends less than one-third of that spent by the rail or water sectors, and under half that spent by the airline industry, Mr Howard went on to emphasize that “there is a need for formal avenues for long-term basic research. Other collaborative industries have programmes supported by subsidy”, he said, clearly begging the question of why the pipeline industry no longer does so.
George Tenley, president of the Pipeline Research Council International (PRCI), then went on to addressed methods through which his organization endeavours to raise the awareness of issues, challenges, and needs, in order to influence regulatory policy and ensure decisions are based on sound technical information. He emphasized the need to use available industry/government funds wisely, reducing or eliminating duplication of effort, in order to produce the greatest impact. Some continuing challenges he addressed were aligning the different procurement processes adopted by industry and government, securing research funding for high-risk but high-impact and high-value programmes, and identifying which federal agency should be the catalyst to stimulate funding of long-term R&D initiatives. He said it was critically important to “engage the public, both as individuals and as community organizations”, and to ensure that research outputs were transferred to the end users speedily and effectively.
Some examples of successful commercialization of new tools for the pipeline industry were then presented. The first of these, from Claude Trahan of Atmos Energy, was a remote methane leak detector which had been a key technology used during the recovery operations after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Next, George Ragula of Public Service Electric and Gas Co (PSE&G – one of the largest combined electric and gas companies in the US) detailed the live CCTV pipeline inspection tool his company uses, developed as a pioneering robotics’ technology. The final presentation in this section was from David Johnson of Panhandle Energy, who discussed how R&D had beneficially supported operating gas pipelines in the US at 80% SMYS.
The remaining two-thirds for the Forum was taken up with six ‘Technical Track’ sessions which had been designed to allow participants to identify and explore the key challenges and research gaps. Participants in each session were asked to identify three top ‘research gaps’, which were subsequently presented to the Forum as a whole. In brief, their findings were as follows.
1. Data mining/threat assessment
This session focused on the technical issues and R&D needs relating to data types; data collection, analysis, and sharing; and the use of data to prioritize threats, identify integrity challenges, and prioritize threat assessment. Common themes among those present included the need to move the pipeline industry toward a common course for the most-effective and efficient systems for managing information, issues to do with growing data overload, reporting inconsistencies, and the need for threat assessment for external forces.
2. Excavation damage prevention
The location of pipelines and other buried utilities before excavation formed the core discussion of this session. Enforcement of the One-Call process was identified as the primary issue that needs to be addressed. Additionally, using global positioning system coordinates, monitoring encroachment, preventing damage while digging/boring, and continuing to evolve keyhole technologies, were proposed as technical needs that research could address.
This area will be discussed further at a conference to be held in Galveston on 13-14 January, 2008, and organized by Clarion Technical Conferences and Global Pipeline Monthly, with the support of the PRCI.
3. Direct assessment
Detection, measurement, and severity assessment of defects that arise during installation (girth weld defects, rock dents) or during operation (corrosion, SCC, impact damage) were the agenda for this session. The current status of in-pipe and out-of-pipe inspection tools was reviewed, and the capabilities of assessment methods for crack-like, metal-loss, and deformation defects were considered, along with the applicability of current guidance, codes, and standards. A gap analysis revealed several general issues, including how to improve and quantify the accuracy and reliability of inspection tools; the inadequacy of knowledge of where, and how fast, time-dependent damage occurs; and how to establish effective codes and validation and qualification procedures.
4. Defect detection and characterization
Issues discussed during this session included detecting and locating defects or leaks (internally or externally); developing consensus standards (such as API 1162); answering the question “How big is the problem?” from the data collected; sharing advancements in robotic camera technology for internal pipe inspections; and identifying the need for defective coating detection processes. Another gap in technology those attending identified related to validation of the capabilities of long-range guided ultrasonics for in-flaw discrimination.
5. Defect remediation, repair, and mitigation
Maintaining safe pipelines, repairing damaged pipelines, and removing future threats were the themes in this track. Discussions centered around proactive damage prevention technologies and prevention-mitigation technologies, as well as on keyhole technologies, advanced repair methods for plastic pipe, and offshore pipeline repair following damage due to severe weather.
6. New fuels transportation
The impact of LNG on pipeline distribution systems, the safety and security of LNG facilities, and the impact of ethanol or methanol blends on pipeline systems were discussed. Further areas looked at during the session were the effects of gas interchangeability on LDC components, and continuing research to identify the impact of varying gas compositions on components based on ASTM standards, along with the necessity for a general understanding of new fuels. Those present made special note that operators must be confident their facilities can perform safely, reliably, and cost-effectively when delivering mixtures of fuels. Lastly, there was a discussion on the observation that little or no consideration is being given to assessing risks and developing implementation tactics to deal with possibly upgrading existing appliances to be able to deal with changing gas compositions.
The Forum unquestionably provided ample opportunity for many issues to be discussed, both formally and informally, and the delegate list shows that most industry interests were ably represented. It is to be hoped that the action plan developed in the final plenary session can be carried through to its fruition. Mention has been made of the need for ‘champions’ to adopt and develop ideas that emanate from meetings such as these: with the lack of available investment and industry funding, it is not absolutely clear, however, that such champions will emerge from New Orleans. It would be a great shame if the initiatives and inspiration created by the Forum were needlessly dissipated: maybe, however, comfort can be taken from Admiral Barrett’s words when he said that “most of the gaps can be filled: the industry generally holds the solution already.”
A detailed report on the proceedings of the Forum is available on the PHMSA site at http://primis.phmsa.dot.gov/rd/mtg_020707.htm.
The Journal of Pipeline Engineering
FOLLOWING on from the success of the Journal of Pipeline Integrity, which it now incorporates, this new Journal has been launched to meet a perceived lack of a scientific and technical publication for the oil, gas, and hazardous pipeline engineering profession. Pipeline engineering has developed into a discrete engineering discipline, and the achievements of those who are professionally involved are not always adequately represented by existing publications. We hope, therefore, that the Journal will remedy this situation, and provide an opportunity for exchange of research and engineering achievement in this industry, which has an undoubted and expanding strategic importance to society as a whole, world-wide.
The launch of the Journal of Pipeline Engineering coincides with the establishment of the new Professional Institute of Pipeline Engineers (PIPE), details of which can now be found at www.pipeisnt.org. Members of PIPE can subscribe to the Journal at a specially-reduced rate, and we hope this will provide a further opportunity for dissemination of ideas and accomplishments.
The Editor of the Journal is always pleased to discuss scientific and technical papers for possible publication: please see the inside front cover for further details.