In this second of a two-part series, Senior Research Leader Brian N. Leis, Ph.D., who directs Battelle Pipeline Technology Center in Columbus, OH, discusses several projects the Center has become involved with following the recent spate of widely publicized pipeline incidents. He also talks about the Center’s work with other research entities, the effects of the shale revolution, and the future of research in including funding issues.
Leis received his B.A.Sc. M.A.Sc., Ph.D. Civil Engineering from the University of Waterloo (Canada). He has been at Battelle since 1974. He has more than 35 years in structural integrity analysis, lately centered in gas and liquid transmission pipeline issues. The Center’s current focus includes: integrity management, ERW seam concerns for the vintage system, and running fracture resistance of advanced-design pipelines. Its clients include transmission companies as well as associations/agencies including INGAA, PRCI and PHSMA. Leis can be reached at 614 424 4421 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
P&GJ: In your discussions with operators, what are some of the biggest concerns they mention?
Leis: Battelle’s involvement with operators frequently relates to integrity management issues that are strongly coupled to regulatory concerns. We also have been engaged in publically published work that involves PHMSA Advisory Bulletins, whereas less frequently we are engaged in the context of Advanced Notices of Pending Rule Making.
For example, we are involved in regard to ADB -11-01 that addresses Establishing Maximum Allowable Operating Pressure or Maximum Operating Pressure for pipelines. Prior to that, we were broadly involved in ADB-09-01, which dealt with Potential Low and Variable Yield and Tensile Strength and Chemical Composition Properties in High Strength Line Pipe. Likewise, we were engaged in work involving ADB-10-03 that addressed Girth Weld Quality Issues Due to Improper Transitioning, Misalignment, and Welding Practices of Large Diameter Line Pipe.
Perhaps due to the nature of our past work we tend to be engaged to deal with the more technical aspects of such concerns. Where technology is a driver for decisions, we also have participated in work related to due diligence and other more management-oriented concerns.
In addition, Battelle often is engaged in a third-party role involving corporate interests or assisting in a regulatory oversight functions. We have served in this context in regard to advisory bulletin issues as well as in areas where regulatory oversight has identified potential design, construction, or operations and maintenance issues.
We have served in this context in regard to fracture control plans for natural gas pipelines as well as for super-cooled liquid pipelines; for example, those transporting propane and CO-2, particularly in regard to the effects of impurities.
P&GJ: How does Battelle prioritize its projects at a time when research dollars are in such demand; is the industry committing enough money for research today?
Leis: We work on the problems that are funded by the industry, or in association with the regulators. Where this is a unique need and an opportunity to contribute to the research community, Battelle does support internal research and development activities. Work over the recent years has targeted running fracture arrest, with a particular focus recently on fracture control for CO-2 pipelines and developing inspection-related technologies.
P&GJ: Has there been an increase in pipeline research efforts in the aftermath of recent incidents?
Leis: A large increase in pipeline research came in anticipation of the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act (PSIA) in 2002. Subsequent to its passage and the related regulatory changes, the pipeline industry has significantly invested to manage (inspect and maintain) their systems consistent with the new requirements.
The PSIA requires enhanced maintenance programs and continuing integrity inspection of all pipelines located within “high consequence areas” where a pipeline failure could threaten public safety, property and the environment. Since December 2000, hazardous liquid pipeline operators—and beginning in December 2003, natural gas pipeline operators—have been developing detailed integrity management programs and conducting baseline integrity assessments of their pipelines.
The amount of effort necessary for pipeline companies to understand and manage the condition of their systems can be overwhelming. Battelle has been in the forefront working with the U.S. pipeline industry and regulators to streamline this process.
Case-specific work tends to follow in the wake of catastrophic incidents, regardless of whether a hazardous liquid or a gas transmission pipeline is involved. For example, the Carlsbad NM incident in 2000 motivated the development of integrity management tools to better deal with internal corrosion. An incident the year before involving a gasoline pipeline passing through Bellingham, WA led to a focus on better detection and interpretation of ILI results, and on the effects mechanical damage on pipeline integrity.
Ongoing work at Battelle merits mention in this context. For example, we have worked with the industry through PRCI in regard to ERW seam issues, and are working with PHMSA to close gaps identified regarding inspection and integrity assessment of ERW seams, which was motivated in part by the Carmichael, MS incident.
The San Bruno, CA incident likewise has motivated work in aspects identified as causative for that failure. High-profile incidents involving liquid lines also spur focused research activities, with leak detection via SCADA-coupled analysis tools being one example.
Such incidents provide a temporary bump in focused research efforts, whereas the longer-term research has broader goals that develop solutions to high-impact issues with utility across the industry.
P&GJ: Are there any specific types of research in which you are partnering with other organizations such as GTI or SwRI or at the university level?
Leis: We team with other organizations that provide unique capabilities to solve the pipeline industry’s challenges to ensure safe operation. We are teaming with Kiefner and Associates, Inc. (KAI) and Det Norse Veritas (DNV) on a seam weld assessment project funded by PHMSA. We have teamed with GTI, SwRI and universities in the past on other projects.
We are teamed with the University of Akron Corrosion Research Center in work on SCC and corrosion management, to meet the needs of a large operator. The purpose of any decision to team is the intent to bring unique talent to solve a problem as necessary.
(Editor’s Note: In November Battelle signed an agreement with the CTDUT, the leading Brazilian research and development organization for oil and gas.)
P&GJ: Do you foresee the federal government becoming more involved in pipeline research as a result of recent mandates?
Leis: The level of involvement has been considered by some an issue for various reasons. However, the mandate of the DOT, which oversees the PHMSA and its R&D programs, is regulatory oversight, much more so than it is R&D. Appropriations in this context tend to control what can be accomplished, with that level of funding in the federal budgets for pipeline research remaining more or less the same over the last several years.
Unless that situation changes, it is hard to anticipate a major change in the federal component. INGAA, API, PRCI, and others also drive R&D related to pipelines. However, because such work tends to focus on collaborative industry concerns, its outcomes target near-term industry safety and serviceability issues rather than R&D.
P&GJ: Are we near any breakthroughs in pipeline research that could have a major impact on the industry?
Leis: We don’t see any certain high-impact breakthroughs on the horizon, just steady, incremental progress on the established concerns. That being said, there are a number of large industry and regulatory-led activities that have the potential to cause step changes from a safety and/or integrity management perspective. The coupling of work on inspection and integrity assessment tools directed at managing 1.) mechanical damage and 2.) ERW seams features are two activities that have that potential.
P&GJ: What shape do you think the nation’s pipelines are in, and in your view, is the aging of infrastructure a major concern for pipeline safety?
Leis: Incident trending indicates incremental improvements in safety since the Pipeline Safety Act of 2002, with reductions in incident rates from those efforts now tending to level off. So the industry continues to improve. Regarding aging, circa 2004, Battelle evaluated the published literature on this topic in a report titled “Integrity Characteristics of Vintage Pipelines,” and recently has reviewed this topic in a context specific to ERW seams in our work for PHMSA.
Key pipeline design parameters in this context are: The specified minimum yield stress (SMYS) and; the modulus of elasticity. The science reported in the literature indicates that the modulus is invariant, and that aging of typical steels — if anything — leads to a beneficial increase in the actual yield stress over the useful life of a pipeline.
That being said, age alone does not cause any decrease in the integrity of pipelines. Care must be taken to manage the other threats that can emerge as an effect of age, such as corrosion. In this context, pipelines are like airplanes and many other engineering structures: Provided they are maintained and used as designed, such structures can continue in use as long as they are economically practical.
P&GJ: In what ways is the rapid development of the shale play going to require new technologies and research efforts?
Leis: While there are differences in how it is produced, shale has been a source rock for oil and natural gas in the U.S. since the 1960s. Given that the transition in how shale oil and gas are produced began in the 1980s, it is reasonable to conclude that the continued development of shale gas and liquids will not lead to unique problems that will require radically new technology solutions.
That being said, as for production from other type of reservoir, integrity management and assessment methodologies may have to be adapted as the means of production evolves, or new formations are tapped—only time will tell.
P&GJ: What segments of the industry does Battelle work with: gas distribution; transmission; oil products transmission, producers?
Leis: Over the decades Battelle has worked all segments of the pipeline industry as the need arises. Current and recent work runs from upstream through midstream and downstream, with the focus today on midstream much as it has been over the years since the late 1950s.
P&GJ: How did you get into the industry and what do you feel are some of your most important contributions?
Leis: My education is civil engineering with an emphasis in my Ph.D. and since on applied mechanics, but I have also been fortunate enough to have taught materials science, so I have background in two rather different yet practically coupled disciplines.
During my early years at Battelle, I was involved in plasticity tied into fracture and fatigue, so when the need arose for that skill-set in pipeline applications, I transitioned from aerospace and other topics to something that then seemed simple and straightforward. Needless to say, it has kept my interest and been a challenge for more than 30 years. I had an oversimplified view at the outset.
Over the years I have contributed on several fronts, most notably: Developed a model for pipeline ductile fracture developed for the PRCI; developed the basis for the fracture control plan for the advanced design Alliance Pipeline, and became known as the Leis Correction; developed the spike hydrotest concept for the PRCI; developed the first viable plastic-collapse solution for corrosion in pipelines. I am now finalizing a second-generation BTCM to predict fracture arrest in modern higher toughness high strength line pipe steels.
I am blessed to work with a number of colleagues who are leaders in fracture theory, thermal-fluid flow, electro-magnetics, and so on — which is the basis for the continued participation in pipeline R&D and technology adaptation in the future.