Advances in Automation for Cathodic Protection Remote Monitoring

March 2012, Vol. 239 No. 3

Craig Held, GM International, FreeWave Technologies

Cathodic protection has come a long way from its manual beginnings. Operators in industrial markets are seeking the most effective and efficient ways to protect assets and infrastructure from corrosion. Many are finding that automated solutions can provide the reliable, real-time monitoring they seek. New technologies and options are continually being introduced to the marketplace.

While automation certainly is more welcome than it was a few years ago, operators now are faced with choosing between a variety of technologies and a consistent flow of new technology features. With such a wide array of options, they are tasked with assembling the best system for their monitoring needs that not only performs as expected, but is cost-effective and ensures not only measuring their actions but also contributes to asset integrity.

The Importance of Ensuring Asset Integrity
The key building block to a cost-effective, pipeline integrity, corrosion protection program is vital, timely monitoring and reporting of cathodic protection. Historically, this activity has been a manual event. Bringing the data back from the field, compiling the data, then reporting the data left little time for analysis.

With new remote solutions, data now moves from remote corrosion protection field sites to a centralized data collection system in a completely automated fashion. Energy and oil and gas pipeline companies have always faced regulatory compliance issues. With a new focus on strategic assets it is anticipated by many that new asset classes will come under regulatory control, straining even more the availability of trained technicians and operating budgets.

Recent unfortunate pipeline news events have made corrosion and cathodic protection front-page news. This has elevated concerns to the extent that Congress and several states are working on legislation directed specifically toward cathodic protection practices.

The Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of December 2002 mandates significant changes and new requirements in the way the pipeline industry ensures the safety and integrity of its pipeline facilities including:

  • Each pipeline operator must prepare and implement an Integrity Management Program (IPM).
  • Participation in planned-excavation, one-call notification programs.
  • Increased penalties for violations of safety standards.
  • Authorization of state participation in interstate pipeline oversight.
  • A multi-agency program of research, development, demonstration and standardization to enhance the integrity of pipelines, and
  • An inter-agency task force to expedite environmental reviews when necessary to expedite pipeline repairs.

The Pipeline Inspection, Protection, Enforcement and Safety Act of December of 2006 added further regulations including:

  • Establishing federal civil penalties for failure to promptly report damage to pipeline facilities.
  • Requiring certification procedures of annual and semi-annual pipeline integrity reports by a senior executive officer of each pipeline company to certify that the officer has read the report and, to the best of the officer’s knowledge, that it is true and accurate.
  • Directing the Secretary and the Technical Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Safety Standards Committee and other appropriate entities, to review internal corrosion regulations in 49 CFR 195 subpart H to determine whether the regulations are adequate to ensure that pipeline facilities do not present a hazard to the public or environment, and
  • By Dec. 31, 2007, the Secretary shall submit a report of findings and recommendations to Congress. Authorizes research and development on corrosion detection and improving methods and technology to identify, prevent and manage internal and external corrosion

While Pipeline Safety Acts send a clear message of increased regulatory oversight of pipeline operations, they also provide a glimpse of what may become even more stringent oversight at both the federal and state levels. Essentially, at the heart of this growing legislative effort is protecting public safety, the environment, national energy reserves and the U.S. economy. Effective answers to critical issues affecting public safety often are found in a combination of differing technologies.

Advancements In Wireless Data Radios
One such technology solution, spread spectrum and licensed wireless data radios, has made its mark as a viable option for automated cathodic protection monitoring. These technologies provide reliable use in the most remote locations without the monthly and reoccurring fees that many other solutions require. Operators are deploying this option more frequently, because it provides real-time access and reporting, which is making substantial progress as one of the best approaches in understanding protection activity of these important assets. Today, these wireless data radios often are viewed as one of the most flexible, reliable and low-power consumption options available to ensure pipeline integrity today.

Security Features
Security is a critical component when determining what type of technology solution to deploy. Wireless spread spectrum data radios can offer secure proprietary networks for cathodic protection remote monitoring. They are available in TCP/IP networks with encryption and operate within the Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS).

The two most prevalent threats to data communication networks are Denial of Service (DoS) and Intrusion. Denial of Service attempts to disable availability of a computer resource or network. This can range from something as simple as jamming an electric or electromagnetic signal, to a potentially catastrophic event by preventing access to critical data. Intrusion ranges from spying or stealing information to corrupting data or taking over an entire network and/or computers and control systems.

Unlike traditional wire-lined data communication – which typically uses copper or fiber-optic cable between communication endpoints – wireless data communication is based on electromagnetic waves using radio frequencies (RF), giving wireless some unique advantages. Wireless systems are very resilient when it comes to impairments such as interference and “jamming.” The key to this resistance is because wireless FHSS signals travel through space and small amounts of radio spectrum are used at a time. They don’t remain at any particular frequency long, instead quickly “hopping” to another frequency.

For critical pipeline monitoring, it is essential to select a technology that is not easily accessed. Proprietary systems and devices offer a higher degree of security to prevent access control. Additionally, a solid network security strategy should protect data “in transit” as well.

Even if an unauthorized device manages to gain access to the network, it won’t necessarily gain access to the actual data without passing yet another layer of security. The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is “the” industry standard for encryption. As a federal government standard and even used by the NSA, it can be trusted to protect sensitive information and maintain data privacy. Today, some wireless data radio providers offer solutions that meet the AES. The key to protecting data and transmission of data is to use the technologies that are prepared to handle potential security threats.

Security is just one area where wireless data radio manufacturers have been focusing on advancements. Some providers now offer a variety of options to help operators tailor their communication systems to their specific needs. Some of these new options include:

  • Serial communication options
  • Mobile to Slave
  • Multiple pipe to soils
  • Multiple slave and slave repeater options
  • Multiple rectifiers out of the same location
  • AC interference monitoring

Battery-powered Remote Monitoring
These same wireless technologies now offer a new solution for operators who want to go beyond measurement and mitigate their cathodic protection issues in order to better protect their assets. The new technology touts a submersible, waterproof, battery-powered option for pipe-to-soil monitoring. This option increases efficiency and provides valuable cost savings. Rather than spending time taking measurements manually, the focus can be on resolving problems and taking steps forward in improving effective protection mitigation.

This new solution’s long-lasting battery allows for a limited amount of human intervention. In an ideal deployment, as long as there are no problems, users only have to be on site once every two years to change the battery. While most will want to ensure annual visits along right of ways, in addition to that annual visit, one now can have trend data over time that will aid in deploying attention where protection problems are beginning to emerge.

This type of product becomes crucial for areas with limited access. Battery-powered remote monitoring also offers the flexibility that some users need to mitigate vulnerable radio locations. In addition, this unit allows a broader range of deployment options where, until now, electronics were not an option. With a new submersible option, valuable electronics can be kept safe, secure and operational because of its waterproof protection.

The new waterproof, battery-powered option also offers coverage for up to three pipe-to-soils. Some operators with more pipe-to-soil requirements may be in need of an additional way to add them to an existing or new network, and want the most cost-effective solution available. Recent modular approaches can offer virtually unlimited rectifier and pipe-to- soil counts at affordable costs.

In addition to these radios there are several options for the operator to consider. These cathodic protection remote monitoring solutions include:

  • Manual – Traditional approach, but requires physical access to the monitoring points for data collection. This is time consuming, especially when assets are located in remote or limited access locations. Oftentimes, when this option is used, resources are devoted to measurement and mitigation efforts become scarce.
  • Satellite – Offer broadband capabilities, but have monthly recurring costs (based upon the amount of bandwidth used each month) and are generally quite reliable once they are set up. Satellite is very capable of being deployed in remote locations.
  • Cell phone networks – Function is similar to satellite systems in that they use an existing public network of communication devices and also have monthly charges – either for a connection or connection and data usage fee. When used within range of a cell tower, they are a simple tool – ‘plug and play.’
  • “Drive By” – A very efficient option because one can simply drive up and take their measurements. A benefit to a drive-by system is the reduction or elimination of any connection fee. However, the drawback is the amount of time and man-hours required to access the data.

Hybrid Networks

As operators investigate the best solution for their individual system’s needs, they are frequently discovering that the available remote monitoring options need not be a unilateral solution. As a result, in certain deployments, hybrid networks can offer the best pipeline integrity management.

By integrating different types of technologies into a radio network, it can easily and more cost-effectively be incorporated into one cohesive network. For example, some wireless data radio providers now offer cellular bridge capability, where the data radio can better interface with cell phone technology. Oftentimes, hybrid networks allow for enhanced manageability, expandability, cost and speed.

When incorporated with spread spectrum or licensed data radios, a hybrid system can include ground, satellite or cell phone-based technologies. By combining technologies, the user creates 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.

Corroded pipelines have the potential to cause major catastrophic events that not only cost millions of dollars in damages, but put human lives at risk. The legislative focus on asset integrity is a sign that operators need to continue to invest and investigate the most effective monitoring solutions to protect our critical infrastructure. With strict regulations in place and more coming, the needs in the cathodic protection market have driven the development of automated technologies as a viable solution for real-time remote monitoring.

As the demand for this type of technology increases, we also see advancements and increased options that allow the operator to customize their communication network based on their individual system’s needs. Some of the latest advancements that wireless data radios offer include increased security offerings, multiple pipe-to-soils, multiple rectifier monitoring capabilities, serial communication options, mobile to slave options, multiple slave and slave repeaters, A/C signal interference detection and more.

In addition to the latest advancements, each operator must consider the fact that rarely does one solution fit all communication networks. Sometimes a hybrid approach will create the most reliable and cost-effective remote monitoring system. With so many options in the market for cathodic protection remote monitoring, it can be overwhelming to select the right communication network. However, with proper planning and execution, operators can leverage these advancements to ensure a reliable, secure and cost-effective communication network.