Pipeline Operator Gains By Wirelessly Monitoring Cathodic Protection

June 2010 Vol. 237 No. 6

Dan Steele, FreeWave Technologies, Inc., Boulder, CO

Cathodic protection (CP) has slowly become a critical issue in America and beyond. The catalysts for this are: (1) new governmental regulations, (2) stiff penalties for non-compliance, (3) the aging of buried metal assets, and (4) increased scrutiny in the public and private sectors seeking efficiency and the protection of assets.

Against this tapestry of change, many operators are seeking the most effective and efficient ways to address the battle against corrosion and the monitoring of efforts to protect assets from corrosion. In the past, the most prevalent monitoring effort was the manual measurement of potential risks by a dedicated team of field engineers and technicians.

A Colorado pipeline operator sought and found a remote CP monitoring solution. Dean Weber, measurement coordinator at EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc., was approached by long-time client FreeWave Technologies, Inc. EnCana is a wholly owned subsidiary of EnCana Corporation, one of the largest producers of gas in North America.

FreeWave wanted to introduce Weber to a new wireless data radio product – CP LineMarker -that was in beta testing. The new radio could measure the electric current introduced into the pipeline, essential in preventing pipeline corrosion.

Cover removed from the monitoring and reporting device.

In the past, CP monitoring was a tedious process for EnCana’s Colorado DJ Basin operation. It required an operator to physically go out to the field and collect readings on a quarterly basis. According to Weber, with 128 miles of regulated pipeline in the DJ Basin of Colorado, these readings could take up to three weeks to complete. The process required extra labor and was time-consuming.

Monitoring Systems
Let us consider the pros and cons of different CP monitoring systems. From the manual and tedious beginning – satellite, cell phone, “drive by” and even “fly by” systems were developed for the remote monitoring of corrosion control efforts. These monitoring efforts have met with varying degrees of success given their distinct differences in execution and costs.

Satellite systems have broadband capabilities, monthly reoccurring costs (based on the amount of bandwidth used each month) and generally are quite reliable once they are set up.

Cell phone systems function in a similar fashion as satellite systems in that they use an existing network of communication devices and have monthly charges – either for a connection or connection and data usage fee. If users are within range of a cell tower, cell phone systems are very much “plug and play” in their simplicity.

“Drive By” systems have appeal because they still keep the process of the field visit intact but without the need to leave a vehicle. One can simply drive up and get their measurements, making it very efficient. A benefit to a Drive By system is the reduction or elimination of any connection fee.

Monthly recurring costs associated with satellite or cell phone systems can become a burden on the operating budget of a department that is held accountable for yearly productivity improvements.

“Fly By” monitoring appears to have hit its zenith several years ago. With costs of airplane operations, weather concerns and the need for a specialized work force (pilots and airplane maintenance crews), it never really gained traction.

A recent entry into remote monitoring is the remote wireless system. Free of recurring monthly charges, it shares the benefits of the other systems within a wholly owned dedicated communication network.

Important Considerations
So with all these choices – manual, satellite, cell phone, drive by, fly by, and now wireless remote monitoring, what is the best decision one can make and what are the parameters to consider? Utility operators looking for a remote-monitoring solution to manage their CP efforts should ask five key questions: (1) Will this system help protect the assets that have been put in my care? (2) Will this system allow me to comply with government and company policies as required? (3) Will this system allow me to operate efficiently? (4) Will this system offer a financially justifiable return? (5) How will this system integrate into my existing SCADA network or will it need its own software support?

Here is how asset protection and compliance tie together with efficiency and cost savings. As stated, the regulations governing the pipeline industry are growing due to tragic events that were the result of unprotected or under-protected pipes. Wireless remote monitoring systems allow enhanced asset protection while ensuring compliance because of their real time and generally more frequent readings. With a manual system, all it takes is a snowstorm, rainstorm, sick day, a higher priority being set or any other problem to keep a technician from being able to get out into the field to monitor protective actions. When pipelines aren’t monitored often, problems go unnoticed, which not only causes a lack of compliance, but also can cause a catastrophic failure.

For instance, a water main exploded and flooded a major highway recently in Denver. This event endangered the lives of drivers on the freeway and cost significant dollars for the water company. They were liable for damages and the event had a dramatic negative impact on the local economy because of the closing of a major highway for several days.

Another reason to consider choosing to have more real-time data for asset protection and compliance issues is the constant development around pipelines. For example, if a light rail system is added near a pipeline, an electrical current is introduced into the situation. The additional current has the potential to interfere with the CP. An automated system is constantly checking in on the CP potentials and will notify the users if anything is not functioning properly and, therefore, not being properly protected.

Another consideration in favor of wireless remote monitoring is the re-assignment of monitoring personnel. With a remote system, technicians no longer spend the day taking measurements; instead, they can be deployed against problems areas and in protection mitigation tasks.

Considerations for implementing an automated CP system are several. A SCADA system is the backbone to a wireless data communications network that sends and receives data from secure, central IT networks to and from a company’s remote field assets. With a SCADA system in place, a company can easily install an automated CP system. However, it is not necessary to have a current SCADA system in place to implement remote monitoring of CP.

For operational and security reasons, many energy and pipeline companies already own and operate their own SCADA network and can finish the job by leveraging their existing capital investment in SCADA through extending the data communication network further out into the field to include CP.

For companies that do not own a SCADA system, small-scale cathodic protection SCADA systems are implemented with minimal investment in readily available software, off-the-shelf personal computers and the services of internal or external local integration companies.

Depending on what system decision is reached – integrated into existing or a stand-alone CP network – the implementation of a remote monitoring system can assist in increasing the communication reliability within the customer’s existing SCADA system or it can become a stand-alone network, reporting mission critical data back for analysis and action.

When implementing wireless CP monitoring, there are several options for increasing convenience, efficiency and cost savings. Users should consider whether they will be bringing their CP data into an existing SCADA reporting system or if they will be using available software solutions for a stand-alone remote monitoring system tool.

When looking at software options for automated pipeline integrity, the operator should consider several questions: (1) Can the user allow/tolerate the data being hosted by an outside service? (2) Can the data be integrated into the existing SCADA system? (3) What level of security is needed for the transmission of the data?

With these questions in mind, one can decide whether it is better to use a vendor-supplied solution or a vendor-purchased solution as well as determine the best security for the broadcast of critical data.

EnCana’s Wireless Decision
For the energy company, the timing of investigating FreeWave’s new CP solution was good. The energy firm was interested in testing the radio because the capability for continuous monitoring ultimately means greater safety, according to Weber. In addition, many of EnCana’s pipelines are in remote locations and spread out over many miles. Having the readings sent directly to its office would simplify the task and reduce travel time and costs. With the CP radios integrated into its existing wireless network, EnCana could be assured of easily overcoming potential safety issues in an easy-to-install, automated fashion.

EnCana was one of the first to test the FreeWave CP LineMarker. After the beta test was a success, EnCana implemented the CP radios throughout the DJ Basin of Colorado. EnCana has more than 50 CP LineMarkers deployed in the field. They are set up on various applications along the pipeline and on metering stations and rectifiers. The CP radio uses Encana’s existing SCADA system to bring real-time readings into its office and directly to its computer screens.

David Dinges, SCADA lead for EnCana, said that adding the CP units out in the field has allowed EnCana to use its SCADA system to monitor the pipelines on a regular basis and actually see trends or whatever they need to be proactive in addressing. Rather than having to physically gather data, they can read it directly from their computer screens and collect it whenever and how often they want.

Since commissioning the radios, Weber said they have been able to catch trends out in the field. For example, some of the anode beds were drying out more often than they thought. In that case, some of the beds were re-designed. He said the company had several rectifiers stop functioning. Thanks to the readings coming in daily, technicians were able to go out to the field that same day and fix the problem.

EnCana is polling data from the CP Line Markers once a day and Dinges said EnCana finds the option of polling data whenever they want to be convenient and beneficial to tracking its trends. Dinges and Weber said the CP radios have saved them labor time and also costs when it comes to fixing problem areas. They now can detect problems quickly.

Hybrid Networks
None of the systems described needs to be a unilateral solution. Hybrid networks also are something to take into consideration. These can include ground, satellite or cell phone-based technologies. However, by combining technologies, the user can create a seamless data stream from several locations and share data over a LAN or WAN with multiple users. The end result is more effective and efficient management of their network and increased reliability through reduced downtime. The benefit of a hybrid system is that implementing different technologies into one network often is a more cost-effective solution, through cheaper unit costs, reduction of the number of stations needing monthly satellite or cell connection fees, and choosing lower power-consuming technologies, thereby reducing power-provisioning costs.

Automation of pipeline integrity management has never been more needed, more available or more affordable. New remote-monitoring technologies merged with existing company assets can help solve a difficult and expensive task of corrosion prevention monitoring to extend the useful life of buried pipeline assets.

Now there are additional options to further increase efficiency and cut costs, such as implementing a software system, creating hybrid systems and adding additional battery power options. Automation of CP monitoring effectively covers the four key factors in CP systems: (1) asset protection, (2) compliance, (3) efficiency and (4) cost savings.

Through careful planning and knowing which options work best for each situation, operators can successfully address the ever-increasing pipeline integrity assurance issue before it becomes a mission critical matter.

For the energy company the technology does here, although simple, is a solution that worked. The energy company has gone from beta testing the radios to installing more than 50 in the DJ Basin field in Colorado. The combination of SCADA and radios brings pipeline readings right onto their computer screens and alerts them immediately when a problem occurs.

Dan Steele is business development executive for FreeWave Technologies. He has more than 25 years of experience selling SCADA networks for the oil and gas, water and waste water, electric utilities, railroad, traffic and process control instrumentation markets.