PPIM 2023 Learnings
- This year, more optimism for the industry – pandemic restrictions loosened, profits are up, and confidence is strong that pipelines will continue to play a valued role in the energy industry long-term
- Big data on pipelines is starting to yield better insights on risk
- There’s a trend towards more data standardization, with the PODS model a popular choice
- Thermal cycling may be an overlooked initiator of stress corrosion cracking
- Engineering Critical Assessments are becoming available for more types and combinations of features
- There’s a big focus on more realistic evaluation of cracks
- New developments in composite repair materials are becoming available
A delegation from HT Engineering’s team attended the Pipeline Pigging and Integrity Management (PPIM) conference in Houston on February 6-10. Overall, there was a renewed sense of optimism. There were about 20% more attendees than last year – partly due to COVID-related travel restrictions being lighter, and partly because pipeline operators seem to have shifted from survival mode back to a forward-looking posture. And, in the midst of all the talk of energy transition, there’s a renewed sense of confidence that pipelines will continue to have a long-term role to play in the energy industry. Here are some of the highlights we noticed.
PPIM Learning #1: New frontiers in data science
Data Science was a popular topic in PPIM 2023, with detailed presentations on data analysis, modeling, and validation to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of using integrity data. For example, the conference offered the “Analytics and Machine Learning for Pipeline Integrity” course to meet demand for pipeline integrity data analysis through machine learning.
Several papers were presented on big data analysis using high-resolution field measurement and raw signal data, with innovative improvements in detection, characterization, and sizing of pipeline anomalies through research using Machine Learning, the Monte Carlo method, and Artificial Neural Networks for deep learning.
We saw a greater focus on using available data to gain better insight into risks. The fast-growing resources in big data do seem to have good potential for helping the industry move away from index-based assessments and the subjective opinions of subject-matter experts towards defensible analysis models. However, there still seems to be debate on whether probabilistic modeling and machine learning methods are producing useful information; results are mixed. We saw no sign yet that regulators want to start focusing on specific data science methods. It is clear however, that regulators do want operators to mature from SME and index-based approaches and apply quantitative or probabilistic models.
Other popular Data Science topics at PPIM 2023:
- Data analysis of fiber optic measurement through Machine Learning, applied to pipeline leak detection.
- Application of Data Science theory to determine active or passive internal corrosion
- Advanced data analytics to better understand sizing tolerance performance and accuracy of metal loss measurement
- State-of-the-art deep learning for interpretation of Electromagnetic Acoustic Transducer (EMAT) inspection data for crack detection
- Monte Carlo Analysis to quantify the probability of seam weld failure over time for optimizing a reassessment plan
- Study of third-party damage and geo-hazards
Recommendation: Investigate how maturing data science may be able to provide you with better insights into the integrity of your system, and whether it’s something you want develop in-house or reach out to industry experts about.
PPIM Learning #2: Data standardization needed
Regulators and larger operators seem to be seeking ways to compare integrity data more easily across the industry, and to understand risk across systems and operators using apples-to-apples comparisons. Toward that end, the Pipeline Open Data Standard (PODS) is continuing to gain traction as “the” standardized data model for the industry. The PODS model provides a database architecture that pipeline operators can use to store critical information and analysis data about their pipeline systems, and to manage this data geospatially in a linear-referenced database which can be visualized in a GIS platform.
There has been good progress on implementation of material verification programs to standardize records of pipeline material properties, including wall thickness, material grade classification, yield strength, chemical composition, and vintage fracture toughness.
Recommendation: Familiarize yourself with the PODS model and leverage opportunities to standardize your records and data collection practices (i.e. have vendors format reports for easy database entry, etc.)
PPIM Learning #3: Thermal cycling can be a threat to pipeline coatings and integrity
One previously under-recognized threat to pipeline integrity discussed at PPIM 2023 was the risk that thermal cycles present to pipeline coatings. On many lines, the product exiting a treatment or storage facility may be at high temperature while flowing, but can cool down to ambient when the line shuts down. The resulting thermal fluctuations can cause water condensation under the coating layer, triggering coating disbondment and holiday formation, which in turn can result in external corrosion metal loss and stress corrosion cracking.
For example: the explosion of a gas pipeline in South America was due to an operating temperature differential between a maximum 200 oC to a minimum of 16 oC. Water vapor leached into and condensed inside the mineral wool insulation layer, leading to anodic dissolution. Hydrogen from the transported casing gas (1.3% – 3.6% hydrogen) and cathodic protection (CP) overload caused hydrogen induced cracking (HIC) for the 12” gas pipeline.
Recommendation: Consider situations on your system where there may be significant changes in temperature – perhaps product is introduced into your pipeline at a high or low temperature, and then is allowed to cool or warm to ambient temperature, with potential impacts on the coating integrity.
PPIM Learning #4: Engineering Critical Assessment options multiply
Engineering Critical Assessments (ECAs)have become an important tool for distinguishing between urgent problems, potential problems, and non-issues. They allow operators to discriminate between features that are likely to fail soon and features that are safe and stable, or that can be monitored for the time being. What we saw at PPIM 2023 was an increase in the types and combinations of types of features that can be assessed using an ECA. Several research papers were presented on assessments for dents, ripples in field bends, and cracks at long seam and girth welds.
Recommendation: Stay up to date on what kinds of features can be assessed via ECA to help “dial in” your investment in digs and repairs.
PPIM Learning #5: Moving towards more realistic evaluations of cracks
The HT Engineering team has long believed that the available methods for evaluating cracks and crack-like features were overly conservative. This meant that pipeline operators invested their resources on features that did not pose a risk to the line’s integrity. A typical response may be “better safe than sorry,” but spending on non-injurious features misallocates resources that should be available for detecting and resolving genuine integrity threats.
At PPIM 2023, Thomas Dessein and Dr. Ted Anderson presented a paper providing a procedure for evaluating irregular cracklike features using MAT-8 with an effective area based on a series of equivalent semi-elliptical representations of the crack profile. This method results in a more accurate burst pressure estimate and should reduce unnecessary repairs.
Recommendation: Examine whether there are areas of your pipeline integrity processes that may be yielding too-conservative results, so you can properly balance your resource commitments among the significant threats.
PPIM Learning #6: New developments in composite repair materials
Repairs and reinforcement using steel sleeves has been the primary solution for the pipeline industry for decades. And while composite repairs have been around for a while, one trend we saw at PPIM 2023 was an increased presence from composite repair vendors and increasing adoption by operators. Composites offer distinct advantages in some situations:
- No need to weld on the line, for greater safety with some product types
- Better compatibility with some ILI tools – steel sleeves can reduce the accuracy of some ILI technologies
- Easier to repair sections of pipe with field bends and elbows and pipe that has ovality
Operators now have an increased variety of products to choose from, and as adoption penetration and duration grow, our understanding of the opportunities and risks presented by composites will continue to develop.
Recommendation: Stay current on developments in composite materials and techniques, which may include training your crews in composite repair methods.
As we hope we’ve made clear, the team here at HT Engineering is excited about meeting the world’s need for safe energy transportation through pipelines, including all things related to pipeline risk and integrity. We stay current on the regulatory environment, technologies, and best practices that impact pipeline operators. If you want context and expertise that will help you focus your energies on other priorities, we can help. Please reach out if you want to learn more about how we can help you ensure that your investments in integrity pay real dividends.