Pipeline research: where next?
It could have sounded like one of those old jokes: “An Englishman, an Irishman, and a Scotsman met up together and….”. But in this case, it was a President of NACE International, a President of PRCI, a Secretary General of EPRG, and a number of high-level subsea pipeline industry representatives, and it wasn’t a joke. The occasion was the recent meeting of the DNV Pipeline Committee, held in the UK under the chairmanship of Colin McKinnon of Wood Group/JP Kenny: it’s rare to see such an influential pipeline-industry group in one room, and the Journal of Pipeline Engineering and our sister publications Pipelines International were privileged to have been invited to listen-in to the group’s conversations.
The DNV Pipeline Committee’s general aim is to discuss current needs in the subsea pipeline industry (despite its name, it generally focuses on offshore pipelines and landfalls) and help monitor the development of new codes and standards to reduce future risk. With this in mind, and under DNV’s aegis, a number of joint-industry projects have been established, and the Committee reviews and updates progress on these as part of its work. From time to time the Committee invites guests to discuss specific subjects: at this recent meeting, a number of guests – including the association representatives mentioned above – had been invited to review the subject of ‘Pipeline research and development: the needs of today and tomorrow’.
Founded in 1864, DNV’s core competence has been to identify, assess, and advise on how to manage risk, and safely and responsibly improve business performance. As can be seen from a list of its activities, much of DNV’s work is aimed at offshore structures and shipping. However, its first pipeline code was issued in 1976, since when the Norwegian-based company has created a number of internationally recognised standards and recommended practices for the pipeline industry. The most well-known of these is probably the DNV-OS-F101 Offshore standard for submarine pipeline systems, the most recent edition of which – which applies modern limit-state-design principles with safety classes linked to consequences of failure – was published in October, 2010 (with the last main revision in 2007). Based on its project experience, research, and joint-industry development work, the organization also issues a number of pipeline codes which comprise service specifications, standards, and recommended practices, and which are highly regarded within the international pipeline community. These are complemented by upwards of 13 recommended practices which give detailed advice on how to analyse specific technical aspects according to DNV’s researched criteria.
In its focus on R&D needs, the Committee was asked to keep ‘big safety’ in mind: rather than relying on standards (and legislation) that apply to ‘trips and slips’, industry nowadays needs to improve its safety leadership, and add a consideration of safety to the design review process. It was acknowledged that feedback from operations to designers could only be beneficial, although there were few instances in which this happened in practice as the systematic and contractual arrangements for this do not generally exist. Examples were quoted of an engineering company having to apply different design standards when working for the same subsea contractor, dependant on its own client’s requirements. As was pointed out, optimum design is not always equivalent with robust design, particularly as the intended use for a subsea pipeline may change over time: for example, moving to multi-phase flow from single-phase, changing third-party threats (larger trawl boards was highlighted here), or varying seabed currents.
Presentations were made by each of the organizations mentioned above, bringing those present up-to-date with their plans. Although of great significance to the pipeline industry generally, NACE International incorporates a much wider membership than just the pipeline industry; improving its communication skills was seen as one of its most important current targets, combined with the need to improve corrosion management guidance for those outside the profession, and helping stakeholders and decision makers understand the significance of corrosion technology.
With its broad-based membership and significant international association links, PRCI can be said to represent around 60 percent of the world’s pipelines. Stating firmly that to undertake research without making the results public was a “waste of time and money”, its President said that its current goals included an emphasis on collaborative culture to develop a worldwide pipeline-industry R&D ‘roadmap’, the benefits of which would include better utilization of limited resources; progress towards an industry-wide strategy; an assurance of consistency; and development of a visible and unified public image.
Though smaller than NACE International or PRCI, the European Pipeline Research Group (EPRG), founded in 1972, is influential both in its eponymous geographical area and elsewhere. Its members represent over 100,000km of operating pipelines, and manufacturing capacity of over 2m tons/yr of high-strength steel pipe. Among the drivers for its collaborative research programmes are the problems of the ageing network, the increasing costs of operations and maintenance, and the high cost of new connections. Representatives of EPRG, PRCI, and of the Australian Pipeline Industry Association (APIA) meet at biennial Joint Technical Meetings (in May, the 18th meeting was held in San Francisco) to present and discuss their research and promote joint projects. Together with DNV, EPRG is supporting a European-funded project on the safety of CO2-transmission pipelines, which was launched in July.
Probably one of the most important outcomes from this meeting was an acknowledgement that research that was kept confidential for too long was essentially wasted research. Although research has to be funded, and the current model in many countries was that industry has voluntarily to provide this funding (Brazil and China are examples of a different approach), it is clear that the results must be made public as soon as reasonable. A two-year moratorium, to allow the funding companies to have some of the technological rewards from their investments, was seen as acceptable; longer delays in publicizing the results that could benefit the whole of the industry were not. DNV’s initiatives in making the details of the JIPs with which it is involved openly available through its website, and PRCI’s determination to promote partnerships with stakeholders, industry, and regulators, are good examples of where attitudes are leading in this regard. The spirit of this meeting was wholeheartedly in support.