Pipeline Research Council International (PRCI), which has led the drive for more reliable pipeline technologies since 1952, recently selected new research projects to fund for the coming year.
In an energy environment increasingly focused on safety and driven by regulatory concerns, its members chose to concentrate on improving inline inspection (ILI), preventing third-party intrusions along rights-of-way and compiling data that could enable changes from the EPA over compressor pump regulations.
“The PRCI membership is made up of the operators of the pipelines, so they are familiar with the challenges they face on a day-by-day basis,” said Cliff Johnson, president of PRCI. “The priorities are arrived at through a culmination of factors.”
Once PRCI polls its members for a list of their concerns and priorities, the organization works with key trade associations and governmental bodies for additional ideas. This time around, members whittled preliminary proposals of about $22 million down to about $12 million, prior to approval at the board of directors’ meeting Sept. 9 in Boston.
“It’s sort of a multipronged approach to come up with the agenda for PRCI,” Johnson said. “In the United States, you see members mostly focused on maintaining infrastructure vs. China, for example, where the concern is building infrastructure.”
PRCI has become an increasingly global organization, having boosted its overall membership by about 25% since Johnson came onboard four years ago. Much of that growth has come from Europe, though the organization has also added sister associations and operating companies to its ranks in recent years.
Johnson said an estimated 50-75% of the projects are driven by regulatory worries, with most of those concerns coming from members in North America and Europe over operational and environmental issues.
“Our members are constantly working to ensure that our research enables them to address regulatory changes and to begin looking ahead to what is needed to develop the safest and most efficient means for delivering this vital resource,” he said. “It’s difficult for some of the newer research to get adopted once it is completed.”
Johnson, who earned a master’s degree in public affairs from the University of Texas at Austin, was brought on board by PRCI in 2010 to help handle just such challenges, replacing George Tenley who retired. He had spent the previous 13 years at NACE International, widely considered the top authority on corrosion-control solutions worldwide.
Top Research Projects
Much of the thrust to improve ILI technology dates back to September 2010 and the explosion of the 30-inch San Bruno natural gas pipeline west of San Francisco International Airport in which eight people died.
“We have made significant advances in the area of how we can use inspection tools to provide an understanding of pipe characteristics,” Johnson said. “This is going to be a major benefit to the industry because right now there is still a small percentage of infrastructure that the industry does not have full characteristics on.”
To gather this data, researchers will go back and verify records pertaining to pipelines in order to provide an extra system of support for operators, and to offer information to address regulatory and public concerns.
Globally, the inline inspection picture has more to do with how to use the massive amount of data already available in concert with information still being compiled in a way that is useful, Johnson explained.
“We’ve been able to help develop more algorithms that help interpret data better, which is a step forward for the industry,” he said.
The program is being developed as a multiyear effort that will depend heavily on the participation of the PRCI member companies in providing past and present data, as well as allowing access to pipelines for technology development, testing and validation.
The research will include ILI tool pull-testing of both improvement and evaluation trials to enhance performance and demonstrate its capabilities. The project will result in standardized testing protocols, and opportunities for technological improvements as well as a better understanding of current technology performance.
PRCI has also made some inroads by looking to other industries for assistance. Through working with the medical industry, for example, researchers now have a handheld device crafted much like a dental x-ray machine that can display pipeline characteristics in near real time.
Johnson said various facets of inline inspection research will be completed at different times between the end of 2017 and early 2020. However, some data verifying current tool capabilities should be available this June.
While research on preventing third-party intrusions has grown in sophistication, focusing on sensing technology, and ground-based and aerial data from satellites, the pipeline industry still finds the most common threat arising from a rather ordinary source.
“We’re still seeing a big challenge from backhoe operators,” Johnson said. “It’s mindboggling that this is still an issue, but it is.”
The right-of-way (ROW) program is designed to develop a new generation of automated surveillance management systems through the use of various sensor technologies that will provide a “step-change improvement” for preventing pipeline integrity threats. This will involve ground patrols, manned and unmanned aerial vehicles and a satellite program that will eventually be used in large-scale deployment for 450,000-plus miles of pipelines in the United States.
Along the way, however, testing and employing the sensors on manned aircraft should provide significant benefits to the industry in the near term. This is in combination with other satellite and offshore systems, as well as land-based robotics, once the technology becomes cost-effective.
In an effort to further develop data safeguards against construction and other intrusions, PRCI will kick off a program at the site of a Colonial pipeline in Virginia that will use drones to spot potential problems and notify the parties involved. Thus far, the effort has been granted a waiver by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Data is expected to be available in spring.
So far, Johnson said, the use of drones has gathered “some really good data” regarding third-party intrusions and leak detection in rural areas, although drone use is limited in more populated areas because of safety concerns.
As part of the ROW research program, PRCI will test ground-based, midair and satellite observations this month, with “a lot of short-term completion data” available in the summer.
“This area of research is moving rapidly for us and we have a lot of completion dates coming up in the short-term,” he said. “We’ve had fairly aggressive ROW programs for several years now and we’re starting to see some results.”
Among the possible benefits of the ROW program:
Environment, Pump Stations
With regulatory concerns among the biggest drivers in the pipeline industry, the PRCI membership has taken aim at EPA guidelines that, in effect, necessitate pump station shutdowns in order to comply with the inspection process.
“Historically, there have been environmental-based regulations at compressor pump stations established by government and the industry working together, and that has been great,” Johnson said. “The EPA decided to make it more stringent. However, they went beyond the current technology.”
Johnson said that in the industry’s view, the requirements, which went into effect a year ago but have not yet been readily enforced, are unobtainable for a majority of operators and would cause an impediment to production. PRCI’s response has been to create a project to monitor two sites for data that it hopes will persuade the EPA to alter its decision.
To its credit, the EPA has reviewed enough complaints about the guidelines over the course of the past year that now it is also looking forward to the PRCI’s results. Johnson said the EPA “now believes there are some legitimate concerns.”
The model in use, known as the USEPA AERMOD dispersion model, has what PRCI has termed “an inherent NO2 over-prediction problem” – a flaw the council said cannot be resolved without further research, field studies and model-performance evaluation.
AERMOD’s over-prediction bias is considered by the industry to be too high to be used reliably for new source review (NSR) permitting, system investment planning, attainment designations or adherence to National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) compliance analyses.
According to Johnson, during the development, evaluation and approval of AERMOD as the preferred dispersion model, evaluation studies were primarily conducted for electric-generating units. Data necessary to evaluate shorter stacks and NOx impacts from existing compressor engine sources is notably absent.
Additionally, model validation for NOx chemistry from multiple sources has not been conducted due to the lack of sufficient data from ambient monitoring, source emissions and meteorological effects. The PRCI project will begin coordinating the tasks for a multi-year collection of that data.
“As it [current EPA guideline] stands, where mitigation may be warranted, costs will escalate due to over-control in response to model conservatism and inadequacies in model performance,” Johnson said.
Model evaluation and performance improvements require “robust ambient monitoring” and an hourly emission data-set to use as the basis to define model bias and over-prediction. Absent an adequately monitored data set, state and regional planning will rely on model over-predicted results to develop compliance strategies.
PRCI plans to ask for a stay in enforcement from the regulation for a year while it does testing, the results of which it will share with the EPA. Three years of testing is expected to follow.
Because pump facilities are one of the highest operating expenses for the transportation of liquids by pipeline, PRCI is also working on expanding certain projects undertaken by its Compressor and Pump Station Technical Committee in a way that allows for a cohesive plan of execution.
The target areas of research will be cutting the cost of maintenance, reducing leaks and emissions while increasing pump efficiency, station reliability and equipment operating range.
“There is a lot going on in the industry,” Johnson said. “We want to build on being a safe industry and doing the right thing.”
New Tech Center
PRCI broke ground July 7 on a new Technology Development Center (TDC) in Houston, which encompasses a 10-acre campus for research with about half of the area to be taken up by the state-of-the-art pull-test facility.
“This new site will allow us to continue to grow our pipeline sample inventory and to perform the research needed to ensure the safety and integrity of our vital pipeline infrastructure globally,” Johnson said.
PRCI established a pipeline repository in 2012 and has built an inventory of over 600 specimens to support technology development through testing at its previous site, also in Houston. PRCI needed the additional space to continue its growth and be more responsive to the needs of the industry. The new center will include 20,000 square feet of workshop and test facilities along with 9,000 square feet of office and meeting space.
Since 1952, PRCI has grown from 15 members to its current roll and now spans five continents after beginning as strictly and North American organization.
Alliance Pipeline Limited, Canada
ATCO Pipelines, Canada
Boardwalk Pipeline, United States
BP, United States
Buckeye Partners, L.P., United States
Chevron Pipe Line Company, United States
Colonial Pipeline Company, United States
Columbia Pipeline Group, United States
ConocoPhillips, United States
Dominion Transmission, Inc., United States
Enable Midstream Partners, United States
Enbridge Pipelines Inc. and Enbridge Energy Partners LP, Canada
Energy Transfer, United States
Eni S.p.A., Italy
Enterprise Products, United States
ExxonMobil Pipeline Company, United States
Gassco A.S., Norway
GDF Suez, France
Kinder Morgan, United States
Koch Pipeline Company, L.P., United States
Marathon Pipe Line LLC, United States
N.V. Nederlandse Gasunie, Netherlands
National Fuel Gas Supply Corporation, United States
National Grid, United Kingdom
Pacific Gas and Electric Company, United States
PetroChina Pipeline Company, China
Phillips 66 Pipeline LLC, United States
Plains All American Pipeline, LP, United States
Sasol Gas Limited, South Africa
Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia
Shell Pipeline Company LP, United States
Southern California Gas Company, United States
Spectra Energy Transmission, LLC, United States
Total S.A., France
TransCanada PipeLines Limited, Canada
TransGas Limited, Canada
Williams Companies, Inc., United States
Pipeline Industry Organizations
Association of Oil Pipe Lines, United States
Electric Power Research Institute, United States
Operations Technology Development, United States
Applus RTD, United States
Baoshan Iron & Steel Co., Ltd., China
China Petroleum Pipeline Bureau, China
GE Oil & Gas, United States
RCP Inc., United States
Shell Global Solutions (US) Inc., United States
Sonomatic Limited, United Kingdom
Technical Program Associate Members
Aegion Corporation, United States
Australian Pipeline Industry Association, Ltd., Australia
Baker Hughes, Pipeline Inspection, United States
Berg Steel Pipe Corporation, United States
CNPC Tubular Goods Research Institute, China
Dresser-Rand Corporation, United States
Elster-Instromet N.V., Belgium
Emerson Process Management, United States
Emerson Therm-O-Disc, Inc., United States
Evraz Inc. NA, Canada
Hoerbiger Kompressortechnik Holding Gmbh, Austria
Innospection Ltd, United Kingdom
JFE Steel Corporation, Japan
KROHNE, Inc., Germany
Lincoln Electric Company, United States
NDT Global GmbH & Co. KG, Germany
Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation, Japan
Quest Integrity Group, LLC, United States
Riccardelli Consulting Services, United States
SGS Canada, Canada
ShawCor Ltd., Canada
SICK Process Automation, Germany
Solar Turbines, Inc., United States
Subsea Integrity Group, United Kingdom
T.D. Williamson, Inc., United States
Test Company, United States
The ROSEN Group, United States
Tubos de Acero de Mexico, S.A., Mexico
TWI Ltd., United Kingdom
Welspun Tubular LLC, United States
WorleyParsons Group Inc., United Kingdom