Several years ago after the collapse of a bridge in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, a cartoon was published showing two people standing on a sidewalk acknowledging the news and bemoaning what else could go wrong. Shown only as can best be done in cartoons, was a mish-mash of pipes underneath their very feet totally out of sight, in various contortions and in varying levels of disrepair and decay.
The message of the cartoonist was to demonstrate that the state of today’s infrastructure is not only what you can see, i.e., roads and bridges, but also what cannot be seen. At the Plastic Pipe Institute, that “underground infrastructure” is what mainly concerns us.
The success of any municipality (one could easily say, state, country or even civilization) must necessarily depend on its ability to provide basic services to a greater population. Clean water, electricity and gas are essential building blocks for a prosperous and thriving populace.
As a country grows and technology expands over time, various pipe solutions are created and employed; each promoting improved performance or economics – sometimes both – as a reason to design a distribution system using a particular type of pipe.
Identifying Pipe Systems
If one looks at the United States, a relatively newcomer in terms of developed countries, as an incubator of developing technologies, it becomes apparent that what is underfoot is a veritable cacophony of pipe systems. For example, in 1815, clay pipe was first installed for water in Washington, DC. Since that time, cast iron, concrete, corrugated steel, concrete pressure, asbestos concrete, ductile iron, polyvinyl chloride and polyethylene pipe have been used in various applications for underground distribution systems.
Is it any wonder that 200 years later, many municipalities are challenged to know what is underground, where it is, when it was installed and who made it?
To go back in time and identify who, what, where and when pipe systems were installed may be one of the most difficult tasks a municipality or utility can be tasked with. However, going forward and taking advantage of newer technology, the ability to track and trace new installations may allow future generations to completely identify their underground assets.
In the early 2000s, the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, (PHMSA), recognized that the lack of adequate traceability information and tracking of pipe locations prevented operators from having enough information to identify system issues related to incidents. Furthermore, the inability to locate affected sections of pipe or fittings could result in excessive and unnecessary pipe excavations, adding to lack of service and additional costs.
In an effort to resolve this shortcoming, PHMSA has proposed regulations (for example, NPRM 2014-0098) that require tracking and traceability in accordance with ASTM F2897-11a. It’s evident that PHMSA’s intent is to ensure that all operators have methods to identify the location of pipe, the people who joined the pipe and components in the pipeline system.
This standard, along with the proposed regulations, would require a 16-character code and barcode along with corresponding record retention practices to provide all the pertinent data necessary to identify the who, what, where, when and how records for every gas distribution installation throughout the life of the asset.
The Plastics Pipe Institute, Inc. (PPI) is a trade association that has worked closely with federal agencies for over 50 years and assists PHMSA in developing and implementing a tracking and traceability program for the benefit and safety of the public. To that end, PPI hosts the registry for gas pipe and component manufacturers, known as Component ID.org, which registers manufacturers of gas pipeline assets, enabling utilities to fully identify what they have in their gas distribution system.
There are 25 manufactures registered in ComponentID.org, with many more expected when F2897 is fully incorporated. In the past few years, PPI member companies have invested significant dollars to lead in the development and implementation by marking over 90% of their gas distribution products with a 16-character code and bar code (in accordance with ASTM F2897), well in advance of regulations, to demonstrate their commitment and support of PHMSA’s initiative.
As this program continues to develop, PPI has also been working with the American Gas Association (AGA) and PHMSA on a reasonable implementation approach for rolling out the full tracking and traceability program and participated in the AGA tracking and traceability workshop that took place in November.
One can quickly surmise that this tracking and traceability program can be quite extensive when considering all the various components that go into a modern gas distribution system. Pipes, fittings, valves, risers and meters are just a few of the pieces that must be catalogued. One major technical challenge facing this endeavor is to develop a scanning technology and record retention procedures that can be used across multiple platforms.
Leveraging the vast intellectual property of our members developed during decades of working within the gas industry, we joined forces with another close ally, the Gas Technology Institute (GTI), to help develop marking solutions that can be effectively used throughout the system.
One has to consider not only the multiple components mentioned earlier, but the multiple materials as well, including metals, plastics, alloys and composites. This collaborative effort with GTI and others will ultimately deliver a standardized coding system able to cross all pipelines and appurtenances.
Polyethylene pipe constitutes nearly 60% of the nation’s gas distribution system and over 95% of all newly installed gas distribution piping. Without question, the integrity and safety of the hundreds of thousands of miles of our members’ pipe and fittings is of great concern not only to PPI, but to other committed organizations as well.
To that end, in the early 2000s a group of representatives of federal and state regulatory agencies and the natural gas and plastic pipe industries formed The Plastic Pipe Data Collection Initiative (PPDC). The goal of the PPDC has been to create a national voluntary database of information related to the in-service performance of plastic piping materials.
Members include AGA, the American Public Gas Association, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, the National Association of Pipeline Safety Representatives (NAPSR), the U.S. Department of Transportation and its Office of Pipeline Safety and, of course, PPI.
As a further service to the safety initiatives of the gas industry, PPI was asked to maintain the manufacturers’ historical data base which provides a detailed history of gas products in order to simplify the identification of issues related to the in-service performance of plastic piping materials.
Dating to the early 1960s, this comprehensive document provides detailed information including the manufacturer’s name, when it produced the pipe and fittings, what material it was made from, size ranges and other comments pertinent to the company.
Stakeholders in the gas industry and Congress are turning to PPI for information and leadership regarding the integrity of the nation’s underground gas network. For example, the House of Representatives’ Natural Resources Committee’s pipeline bill (HR 2295) looks to amend the Mineral Leasing Act to allow natural gas pipeline rights-of-way through all federally owned lands, including lands in the National Park System.
Working with congressional leaders and staff, our members can provide critical information and insight regarding developments in materials and technology used in gas distribution and transmission systems.
In another example, the Department of Energy is announcing several new initiatives and enhancing existing programs to modernize infrastructure and reduce methane emissions through common-sense standards, smart investments, and innovative research to advance the state of the art in natural gas system performance. This stems in part from President Obama’s Climate Action Plan calling for a comprehensive, interagency strategy for reducing methane emissions from gas transmission and distribution systems.
Working with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, PPI is actively engaged to provide insight regarding replacement of leak-prone pipes and other infrastructure improvements and upgrades to enhance the safe and reliable operation of natural gas pipelines.
Since 1950, PPI has been a resource to the gas industry to promote the acceptance and responsible use of plastic pressure pipe and systems in the energy markets by providing research, education, and code/standard development with a focus on delivering safe and sustainable plastic system solutions. Through the work of our members who volunteer their time and skills, we continue to support and be a voice of an industry.
For further information, visit www.plasticpipe.org.
Author: Tony Radoszewski is president of the Plastics Pipe Institute, Inc., the trade association rep¬resenting all segments of the plastic pipe industry. He is a veteran of the plastics industry with nearly 35 years of experience including leadership positions in sales, marketing and business development at Phillips 66 Company/Phillips Driscopipe. Radoszewski earned a bach¬elor’s degree in chemistry in 1980 from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, TX.