This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features first-time guest Rhett Dotson of ROSEN discussing the important Integrity Management topic of how to manage pipeline geohazard threats.
In this episode, you will learn about the different types of geohazard threats, the various tools that are currently being used to support threat detection, what the pipeline industry can learn from the airline industry about achieving incremental pipeline safety improvements, how to better involve pipeline operators in the process of identifying and responding to threats, and more valuable topics.
Pipeline Geohazards: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms
- Rhett Dotson is a Principal Engineer for ROSEN Group. Connect with Rhett on LinkedIn.
- ROSEN is the current episode sponsor of the Pipeliners Podcast. Learn more about ROSEN — the global leader in cutting-edge solutions across all areas of the integrity process chain.
- Geotechnical Hazard (Geohazard) is any process that takes place on the earth’s surface that can negatively impact the integrity of a pipeline. (e.g. earthquakes, landslides, subsidence, etc.)
- Integrity Management (IM) (Pipeline Integrity Management) is a systematic approach to operate and manage pipelines in a safe manner that complies with PHMSA regulations.
- PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) ensures the safe transportation of energy and hazardous materials.
- CFR 192 and 195 provide regulatory guidance on the pipeline transport of natural gas and hazardous liquids, respectively.
- 192.917: How does an operator identify potential threats to pipeline integrity and use the threat identification in its integrity program?
- 195: PHMSA released a new final rule, “Pipeline Safety: Safety of Hazardous Liquid Pipelines,” in October 2019 that became effective on July 1, 2020. In the final rule, PHMSA strengthens the IM requirements to identify and respond to the increased pipeline risks resulting from operational changes, weather and associated geotechnical hazards, and increased use and age of a pipe.
- CFR 192 and 195 provide regulatory guidance on the pipeline transport of natural gas and hazardous liquids, respectively.
- Defects are defined by PHMSA as a deviation from the original configuration of the pipeline. This could be a change in wall thickness due to metal loss, a deformation of the pipe wall, or a crack.
- Corrosion in pipeline inspection refers to a type of metal loss anomaly that could indicate the deterioration of a pipe. Inline inspection techniques are used to evaluate the severity of corrosion.
- Cracks in pipeline inspection refer to breaks, splits, flaws, or deformities in the surface of a pipe. Inline inspection tools are often used to evaluate the severity of the crack.
- Girth Welds join two pipes along the circumference to enhance the viability of the pipes when placed into the field. Girth welds are helpful reference points to detect the location of an anomaly in the pipe.
- ILI (Inline Inspection) is a method to assess the integrity and condition of a pipe by determining the existence of cracks, deformities, or other structural issues that could cause a leak.
- The Caliper tool uses geometry for inspection. The tool runs sensors along the wall of a pipeline to continuously measures the diameter and report back the data.
- IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) measures the pipe curvature using a combination of accelerometers and gyroscopes.
- Magnetic Flux Leakage (MFL) is a magnetic method of nondestructive testing that is used to detect corrosion and pitting in pipelines.
- Hazard identification (HazID) is based on measurements of curvature and associated bending strain and pipe movement (changes in curvature) using ILI tools equipped with an on-board IMU. IMUs are frequently paired with MFL or high-resolution geometry tools.
- ROSEN has expertise in using IMU inspection and has identified many landslide features that operators were previously unaware of. Find out more about the three service levels that ROSEN offers to pipeline operators to address bending strain events where a pipeline is at risk from geological effects.
- ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) develops codes and standards for industrial use to create a safer world. ASME has been defining piping safety since 1922.
- ASME B31.8 Committee covers gas transmission and distribution piping systems, including gas pipelines, gas compressor stations, gas metering and regulation stations, gas mains, and service lines up to the outlet of the customer’s meter set assembly.
- MAOP (maximum allowable operating pressure) was included in a bulletin issued by PHSMA informing owners and operators of gas transmission pipelines that if the pipeline pressure exceeds MAOP plus the build-up allowed for operation of pressure-limiting or control devices, the owner or operator must report the exceedance to PHMSA on or before the fifth day following the date on which the exceedance occurs. If the pipeline is subject to the regulatory authority of one of PHMSA’s State Pipeline Safety Partners, the exceedance must also be reported to the applicable state agency.
- The PRCI (Pipeline Research Council International) is the preeminent global collaborative research development organization of, by, and for the energy pipeline industry.
- Listen to Pipeliners Podcast episode 54 with PRCI president Cliff Johnson on how the PRCI has developed a data hub to store information from across the pipeline industry.
- INGAA (Interstate Natural Gas Association of America) is a trade organization that advocates regulatory and legislative positions of importance to the natural gas pipeline industry in North America.
- Black Box Thinking by U.K. newspaper columnist Matthew Syed dives into why some people never learn from their mistakes. The book focuses on how people, especially in organizational settings, can confront mistakes, learn from their own version of a black box, and create a climate where it’s safe to fail.
- Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) is an aviation proactive safety program spearheaded by the FAA. ASAP promotes safety by encouraging voluntary self-reporting of safety occurrences and situations. The reports are analyzed by the FAA to reduce hazards and develop training programs.
- LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges to the earth.
- Listen to the referenced Pipeliners Podcast Episode #81 with guest Bryan Crowe for a discussion of Ground Movement and Pipeline Integrity in Marcellus and Utica.
Pipeline Geohazards: Full Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 188, sponsored by ROSEN, the global leader in cutting-edge solutions across all areas of the integrity process chain, providing operators the data they need to make the best integrity management decisions. Find out more about ROSEN at ROSEN-Group.com.
Announcer: The Pipeliners Podcast where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations. Now your host, Russel Treat.
Russel: Thanks for listening the Pipeliners Podcast. I appreciate you taking the time, and to show the appreciation, we give away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener each episode. This week, our winner is Nicole Koval with Northwest Natural. Congratulations, Nicole. Your YETI is on its way. To learn how you can win this signature prize, stick around to the end of the episode.
This week, Rhett Dotson with ROSEN joins us to talk about managing pipeline geohazards. Rhett, welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast.
Rhett Dotson: Good morning, Russel. It’s good to be with you.
Russel: Great to be with you as well. Listen, before we get going here, I’d like you to do a little introduction. Tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into integrity management.
Rhett: Sounds good. How far back do I need to go, Russel?
Rhett: Are we talking about like date of birth, or do I start in the college years?
Russel: Whatever you want to do, Rhett, it’s all good, man. It’s all good.
Rhett: I graduated Texas A&M University with bachelors and master’s in structural engineering in 2005. I’ve been doing consulting work since that time. Now, I guess, it’s about 16 years. I started off actually in deepwater upstream and migrated to midstream. Around the 2008 to 2011 timeframe is really when I started working in the midstream industry.
I’ve spent the last four years since 2017 at ROSEN, and I’ve covered a variety of threats. I don’t want to be sounds maybe arrogant. You name the threat. I feel like I’ve either had an awareness of it or dealt with it on pipelines from odd and vintage things like pressure welds, all the way through the more common things like seeing well defects.
Russel: You said structural engineering from Texas A&M. What year did you graduate?
Rhett: I’m Class ’04. I came out with my bachelor’s in ’03 and my master’s in ’05.
Russel: I’m also a structural engineer major. I was a civil structural option from Texas A&M. I graduated a year or two before you.
Rhett: [laughs] That’s cool. We have the same exact degree plan there, Russel.
Russel: Although it’s quite likely we had some of the same professors. You have Lowery?
Rhett: Yup, I said, “I bet you had Lee Lowery.” [laughs]
Russel: Absolutely. That’s one of those things I remember well. [laughs]
Rhett: Dr. Lowery, man, he’s amazing. Amazing.
Russel: Oh, gosh, yeah. There’s some great guys there. I’m sorry I’m getting us way off in the weeds, but that was a nice little segue down memory lane there.
Rhett: I got a feeling it’s going to happen a lot.
Russel: Probably. I brought you on to talk about managing geohazards as it relates to integrity management. Maybe you talk a little bit about what is a geohazard, and what kind of risks are there from an integrity management standpoint?
Rhett: Broadly speaking, geohazards are anything that affects the geological landscape of the earth. In a manner of speaking, the earth is always changing. They can either be purely land-driven — most people, when they think about something that’s purely land-driven, you’re thinking maybe a landslide or an earthquake — they can also be hydrological in nature. So you think watercourses, streams that either change course over time, eroding riverbanks, or maybe in some drier places, we get really sudden rains, and all of a sudden, you’ll get watercourses that are sudden and violent if you will floods.
Basically, all of those together, if you think about it, the earth’s surface is changing. Pipelines themselves are buried very close to the earth’s surface. When the earth’s surface changes, they drag, move, and affect the pipelines with them. We have to be aware of that. They grab on to pipelines and bend them out of position. As a result of that, a lot of times, you can you can get failures that originate in pipelines, either in the girth welds or in the pipe bodies.
Russel: How do you go about understanding those risks and managing those risks? When you talk about geohazard, the first thing I think about because it’s probably the most radical is an earthquake. You can’t anticipate an earthquake.
Rhett: Indeed, you can. Indeed, you can anticipate an earthquake, and you can design properly around it, believe it or not. It’s really funny, though, Russel, because that mentality that you give there is what existed in the pipeline industry for a long time like these are Acts of God. We can’t do anything about these. The problem is when you start to have Acts of God happening multiple times a year, regulatory, the public, people look, and they say look, you gotta be able to do something about this.
Unfortunately, for most operators, Russel, geohazards find operators before operators find the geohazard. Once it finds you, you see an awareness begin amongst the operator. For instance, I’ve never had any issues, and then bam, you get a failure due to a landslide. All of a sudden you’re like wait up. I’ve got to wake up and take a look at this. You start to realize there are ways that you can characterize landslides.
There are maps in the United States for instance. An earthquake, most people know if they live in an earthquake zone. Let’s assume that you never had issues and suddenly you have an earthquake. It affects your pipeline. You’ll find there’s pretty detailed fault maps in the United States. You can go almost anywhere and find out what the probability of an earthquake and its orientation generating a slip at a given location and at least begin to understand the nature of that threat.
Russel: Rhett, you make a really good point. I’ve got a good friend of mine that’s a builder in California, and you don’t build in California without understanding the earthquake codes. You can’t anticipate when an earthquake will occur, but you can anticipate that an earthquake will occur, which is what you’re saying. I need to design for it because I know it’s going to occur.
The thing that’s a little challenging about geohazards is they’re very diverse. There’s so many things that it’s the nature of the soil, the nature of what’s going on with water in that particular location, the nature of the topology. Is it steep? Is it flat?
All those kinds of things are factors that have to be looked at. A lot of times you’re right that it’s easy for that to become an afterthought.
Rhett: Absolutely. There’s a tendency there to think of the most common ones. I’m in the Appalachians. I’m only affected by landslides, or only those guys are affected by geohazards because they have landslides. On the West Coast, yeah, only those guys are affected by earthquakes.
If you’re out in the middle of the desert, yeah, you might not have earthquakes, and you probably don’t have landslides, but it’s very common for them to have washouts as a result of sudden rains and all of a sudden a pipeline that wasn’t exposed gets exposed. Then, that washout happened to accidentally pick up somebody’s truck and carry that truck right into your pipeline. Those are things that you have to be aware of.
Again, usually, the operator’s not thinking about it until it finds them. Once you become aware of that threat, it follows the same threat management procedures that all pipeline operators have to. I’m aware of a threat. All right. How am I going to mitigate that threat, or how am I going to monitor and inspect for that threat?
Russel: Would you say that when you go to industry conferences around integrity management that geohazards gets much attention, or does it tend to get buried behind other things?
Rhett: Historically, geohazards has not gotten a lot of attention. If you just look at pipelines in general, corrosion is robably the oldest and most well-established threat. We’re still talking about that today. We have really good tools and whatnot for handling it.
Geohazards, I feel like you started hearing more rumblings in the 2000s. Since the 2010s, it’s just steadily increased. Russel, I don’t know if it’s an increased number of failures, or if it’s an increased awareness of those failures, or if it’s all of that combined with the fact that humanity is getting closer and closer to pipelines in a lot of cases.
Decades ago if you had a failure happen in the middle of nowhere, nobody might have known. Today, you can have a failure happen in the middle of nowhere, and I guarantee you it’s at least going to make local news media, and other outlets will grab on to it, too. There’s an increased awareness in pipeline-related failures.
As a result of that, it grabs the public’s attention. It grabs the media’s attention. It grabs regulators’ attention. We’re seeing a lot more of it today.
Russel: The 24-hour news cycle and the fact that everybody is a news reporter because they all have a phone, and a video camera and a social media account, that that’s a factor because things that wouldn’t have gotten wide play 20 years ago get wide play now.
I actually think that all the activity in the last 10, 15 years in the Marcellus and the Utica has really brought this to the forefront because landslides are a pretty significant issue there, and there’s been a number of notable failures related to landslides.
Now there’s a lot more intentionality around how are we going to watch for these things and predict them, which has tended to bring the management of geohazard risk more to the forefront. It’s a combination of a couple things, and those would be two major ones. Any time you have a lot of development in an area where you don’t understand all the details, the learning can be painful.
Rhett: Russel, man, I can only agree. As a result of all of that, you see a lot more focus on conferences. We see a whole lot of tracks. Unfortunately, since it did take so long to mature, even now with the updated rule for gas pipelines, we see a focus on weather and outside forces that is certainly given more attention than it was historically.
It does mean that we have a lack of specialty in our industry and a lack of specialized understanding of that threat and how to deal with it. We have a lot more people that are familiar with corrosion, a lot more people that are familiar with seam weld cracking than we have people that are familiar with geohazards and the management of that threat.
Russel: That’s right. What I say there, Rhett, is we tend in our business to focus on the metal versus the things around the metal.
Rhett: I like that. Can I use that?
Russel: Yeah, sure. You can even take it as your own. You don’t even need to give me credit. No sweat. [laughs]
How are the regulators in the standard body reacting to this? What’s going on in that domain related to geotechnical?
Rhett: It’s really funny on both of those. It’s funny that you bring both of those up because I’ve got two really good examples.
On the updated rule front, you clearly see that weather and outside forces are mentioned, and it actually made specific mention of using both caliper tools and IMU equipped tools, inertial tools, in order to monitor for that threat and inspect for it.
Historically, that hadn’t appeared. You see the rule actually giving it a little bit of attention. Again, it’s not a ton, but it’s more than it had before in the last time we had a rule.
I’m actually on the [ASME] B31.8 committee right now, and we have a ballot right now that is a total overhaul of the way weather and outside forces are dealt with. That, historically, was a pretty small paragraph in B31.8. It’s now a full page that really goes into detail. It’s got a big table looking at the various different types of hydrological and geotechnical threats. On both of those fronts, both from a regulatory perspective and a codes perspective, you’re seeing increased effort there.
PRCI is another really good example. Back in 2011 when I started, you might have had two research papers, maybe three, that were fairly dated on the management of those hazards. You’re seeing all of those be redone.
INGAA just put out their white paper on the management of geohazards. Across all fronts, you’re seeing a lot more resources being available to regulators both from the design side and the management side.
Russel: Interesting. That’s a lot of activity.
Rhett: Yes. It is a lot.
Russel: One of the challenges for any pipeliner is there is so much happening on so many fronts it’s impossible to stay current in the details. It’s quite challenging just to stay current in general on what’s going on. There’s so many very technical, very specific, domains in our business. That’s a lot of activity. That’s a lot of activity.
Rhett: It’s, honestly, Russel, it’s too much for, most operators are being driven to create specialized departments to deal with it, which they didn’t have before. Most of your majors are out there now have at least one person, if not two, or if not a team, that’s devoted to the management of the geohazard threat.
They might be labeled geohazard specifically. They might be labeled a weather and outside force team. They’re beginning to create specialized entities similar to their corrosion team, similar to their hydrotest MAOP reconfirmation team. They have specialized teams that are to go out there and figure out how are we going to address this threat, how are we going to manage this threat, and what steps do we need to take.
Russel: That’s not unprecedented because I know of a number of large operators in the Gulf Coast that have specialized teams that just focus on water crossings.
Russel: They have whole sets of approaches, and standards, and processes for floods, and tropical storms, and so forth. Same kind of comment. It’s like are we going to have a flood in Houston? Yes. I just can’t tell you when and how bad.
Rhett: You could be prepared for it. Again, that’s where it comes, being aware of that threat.
If you had an exposed pipeline before the threat and you did nothing about it, and then the threat happens, and it grabs that exposed pipeline, unfortunately, I do think that there’s some, I say, unfortunately, unfortunately for the operator, but fortunately for the public, the regulatory scrutiny that that brings says, hey, you knew you had a threat.
You knew you had an increased likelihood of that threat causing problems because of the condition of the pipeline here. You should have dealt with it. That’s a logical conclusion to reach.
Russel: It certainly goes to what is the public expectation and what goes to our license to operate. The public has different expectations than they did 10 or 20 years ago.
Part of that’s because when you’re carrying around a smartphone and it does all the crazy stuff that it does, you expect people who work in the industrial industries to have the same kind of technology being applied in the same kind of ways.
The public expectation is moving faster than the industry’s capability, or the technology that’s available. That’s easy to say. It’s a whole ‘nother thing to talk about what do you do about that.
Rhett: It is. Even as we move towards zero incidents, the reality is that’s a goal. It’s an unachievable goal, but it is a goal because of that public license, that concept you mentioned, this is interesting. There has always got to be some tolerance. You’re going to have things that happen that you cannot control.
Russel: I actually want to talk a little bit about that. It’s a little off subject for what I asked you to bring on, but it’s something that I’ve been giving a lot of thought to. I hear this comment in our business that everybody agrees that zero incidents is the right standard. That’s the right objective. Most people will say it’s not achievable. If you look at what the airline industry’s done in the last 30 years, they’ve come pretty dadgum close in terms of…
Rhett: It’s interesting that you bring up the airline industry because now you’re going to hit a hot button topic for me, right? [laughs]
Russel: I’m having some conversations with some people who have been involved for 30 years with safety management, the airline industry, about how that might get applied into the pipelines.
Rhett: There was a book written called “Black Box Thinking.” You’re shaking your head. You heard this book. The differences between the airline industry and the medical industry. If we’re going to mirror what the airline industry does, we have to create the culture that the airline industry did, one where failures aren’t run from. Failures are viewed not as things that have to be penalized.
Russel: But as opportunities to learn and make improvement.
Russel: That’s exactly right.
Rhett: I’ll be frank with you, Russel. I don’t know that we have a balance…
Russel: We don’t. The pipeline industry does not have that right now. That’s a very big lift for our industry. There’s no doubt about it. It’s a very big lift. The interesting thing and the conversations that I’ve been having is they talk about what they call the Aviation Safety Action Program. That’s the whole self-reporting program and the process for taking those self-reports and analyzing them and all that kind of stuff, right.
Anyways, one of the gentlemen that I’ve been talking to, he explained it like this. He says, “It’s like I’m driving, and I ran a stop sign. Then what I do is the first police station I pass, I go into the police station. I asked for a form. I filled it out, and I turned it in. I just ran that stop sign back there.
“The officer reviews the form and he says, ‘Was it nighttime, or was it daytime? Was it raining, or was it clear? Were there any obstructions around the sign? What was the traffic? Were you listening to the radio? Are you talking on the phone? He asked all these other questions.’
“He says, ‘Well, thank you very much for your report. I just want to let you know that we’ve had five other people in the last two weeks ran that stop sign. We appreciate you bringing this to our attention. This is very helpful.'” It’s just a whole different way of thinking versus that, “I want to give you a ding for running the stop sign.”
Rhett: Than I would prefer not to let you know that I ran that stop sign. [laughs]
Russel: Exactly. You’re right. It’s a big lift. I think that in terms of managing hazards, we need something like that in the industry for managing hazards because the people who are closest to the pipeline are the ones who are going to be most likely to see the hazard and certainly most likely to see change.
That’s not just pipeline operators. That’s all the other stakeholders, the landholders, the first responders, and so forth.
Rhett: I think beyond that, they’re bigger, man. We could dig a hole here, Russel.
Rhett: You can’t demonize pipeline operators either at the same time. I’ve not met an operator yet that honestly doesn’t care about the safety of their pipelines and doesn’t, in some way, impact whether or not they sleep at night.
Russel: It’s one of the things I like about being in the pipeline business.
I’m always amazed just across the spectrum of all the employees how seriously they take their jobs, particularly when they start talking about the impact of the environment, the impact of the public, the need to deliver the commodity, and the need for the commodities to support our economy, our lifestyle, and everything else.
I’m with you. What do you think are the tools and technology that are needed now to address geohazard?
Rhett: It’s funny because I feel like I always start with the ILI answer. The reality is one of the technologies it’s starting to gain a lot of attention is the use of IMU and bending strain.
Historically, when you look at IMU, it was adopted onto the tools to improve dig locations. Where’s my pipeline located? I don’t want a big excavation. I want a small excavation. When they realize that you could use that data to derive curvature, and then bending strain.
Then, when you could do repeat assessments and determine whether or not your curvature and your pipeline was moving, those are really powerful and effective — both from a cost perspective as well as effective from an identification perspective — that are useful for surveying the entire pipeline.
Unfortunately, you’ve only seen that technology take off since probably the early 2010s. That’s when you started kind of hearing about it. Now, we’re seeing operators use it. That’s one really effective way of doing it. The other tool that’s out there is there’s a lot of publicly available tools. There’s publicly available information on, for instance, the locations of earthquake faults.
The probability that a fault is going to occur at a given location and the magnitude of that fault, you can design around that. Landslides are publicly mapped in United States. We’re gathering increasing amounts of LIDAR data from across the country.
Russel: I did a whole podcast on that subject how are they using satellite imagery in the Utica and Marcellus to measure ground movement.
Rhett: Bingo. Operators can begin to latch onto that data, but you know what that requires? That requires an awareness of the issue. Then it requires a team dedicated to dealing with the issue or a person at the very least at that time to go and start looking at that data, finding out whether or not it processes or whether or not it impacts your pipeline, which brings me to the second point.
You’ve got some good ILI technologies that I think are really good, but then I also think you can’t talk about geohazards without talking about the geospatial aspect of things. All that LIDAR data we’re talking about, that’s all geospatial data. You get these publicly available maps. The integration of those with really powerful GIS tools is where you have to go. Operators have got to have good GIS programs to understand, “Hey, where are my pipe central lines? Are my pipe center lines impacted by these potential geohazards?”
You have pretty good data, and then you got pretty good ILI tools right now. If you have none of that, at the very least, the walk downs of your pipeline — the surveys, either aerial or foot patrols — really do give you valuable information if you’re paying attention to it.
Russel: You’ve got to know what you’re looking for, right?
Russel: The walk down, by itself, has some value, but to the extent the person doing the walk down understands what they’re looking for, and why. That’s more valuable. I think you’re right. You’re talking about people in teams. I tend to focus on process.
There’s a lot of things you can do through software, through automation, that, when well-understood and well-implemented, can minimize headcount requirements. I like to hear you comment on this, but to my take, it’s not so much…These things have to happen. I have to gather the data, I have to integrate the data, I have to analyze the data, and then I have to get some outputs that start feeding into my risk management program. Most of that process can be automated, but you got to be very deliberate about how you get that done.
You think I’m right about that? To what extent do you have to have good engineers doing the work versus monitoring the process?
Rhett: You got me thinking on that, Russel. I won’t lie.
Russel: I do that to people if I’m given the opportunity.
Rhett: I maybe pause and think. I was thinking about everything. I’m thinking about it from both perspectives. Let’s separate the ability to ILI and spec from the ability to gather the geospatial information you need on something like LIDAR data. I do think it’s possible with the LIDAR data that you can put processes in place to gather that data and look for change.
The tools are beginning to be developed to automate that and then determine whether or not inspect your pipeline, but then you still got to have somebody evaluate the potential for that threat that understands it that can go back and look. Otherwise, you’ll waste a lot of integrity resources.
For instance, you get your LIDAR data back, and maybe your algorithm runs through and says, “Five places on your pipeline — they’re all experiencing movement.” The minute you cross-reference it, you’re like, “Oh, those were excavations that we did last year. Move along. We don’t need to pay attention to that. They obviously disturbed the ground, or we were doing rework there. Under the pipeline, the operator was doing rework adjacent to our pipeline. That’s what you’re seeing.”
The processes really augment the ability to manage the threat. I think it’s what they do.
Russel: It’s another way, Rhett. There’s no replacement for good engineering judgment.
Rhett: Bingo. That’s something we work with operators a lot of when I see…It’s a frustration to me. I didn’t have the soapbox issue here.
Russel: [laughs] This is the good stuff right here.
Rhett: We do a lot of bending strain assessments. ILI operators are very used to getting their data back in pipe tallies. They love pipe tallies. Our industry loves pipe tallies. We love Excel spreadsheets.
Excel spreadsheets can only convey so much information. In the context of bending strain, it can tell you the length of the area. It can tell you the magnitude of the peak strain. That often tells you nothing about what is actually going on there.
The real data is in the graphs that show you how to straighten it. It’s the plots that tell you how the bending strain distribution is changing and whether or not it’s affecting girth welds. That’s really where the meat of it is. There’s an extra layer there that you have to get into a lot of times.
It’s frustrating to me because people want to operate at that pipe tally level. They’re like just give me the information, then I can use these fancy algorithms to sort. I’m like you can’t do that. You can’t close your eyes to the data that’s behind that pipe tally because it’s really where the meat and the value is.
I could take a similar vein on MFL or dents with metal loss. I could go off on a tangent there. A lot of times you’ve got to look beyond that simple ILI pipe tally to get what you’re after.
Russel: What I hear you saying, Rhett, is that we’re getting to the point we’re getting pretty good tools for capturing the data. We’re getting pretty good tools for seeing change, but really what we need next is some good tools for visualizing what’s actually occurring in the pipe.
Rhett: You need tools, and you need education and understanding.
Russel: Those two things go together.
One of the challenges about these fancy visualization tools, particularly when you start looking at 3D tools that are plotting stress through a pipe, or stress through a metal wall, or something like that is you need there to be some standard across the industry so everybody understands how to read those things and what it means, and then how to dig underneath when they need to dig underneath.
Otherwise what you get is you spend all your time trying to understand what you’re looking at.
Rhett: Exactly. I got to reinforce that with an example. When I first came to ROSEN in 2017 and came to realize the value of the bending strain assessments, I started a real simple presentation where I’d begin going to operators and explaining bending strain data, how to read it, how do you get into it.
I was shocked by the number of operators who would say, “Yeah, we ran a bending strain assessment a couple years ago to try it out. Honestly, I just, I put the report on the shelf because I don’t know how to read it. I don’t know what it means, and I don’t know how to respond to it.” I’m like, “That’s, that is incredibly valuable data. Let me explain it to you.”
I find myself in front of operators a lot of times explaining to them this is how you read these plots. This visualization’s really powerful, and yes, it takes a little bit of time. Once I explain it to them, once I say this is what that strain means, and this is how you understand it, and this is what you should look at, then the lights start to come on.
I’ve really seen a lot of progress in our industry, and particularly with my clients, as I get the chance to talk to them. We do have pretty good tools. We have pretty good tools of visualization, but without the understanding of what it means, without the understanding of how to read it, it’s a data set that’s, what does 1.5 percent strain mean?
Russel: The thing about on the vendor side, we have the luxury on the vendor side is we can get pretty narrowly focused. We can be very highly competent in a very narrow domain.
The operators don’t really have that luxury. They need to be, I hate to use the words generalists because that’s a poor word to use for what operators are doing in integrity management, but they have to have an understanding more broadly across all the threats and things that are going on versus the in-depth understanding of a particular threat.
When you start getting to the inconsistencies between different tools, and the data they present, and how it’s represented, different threats and how that data is presented and represented, and trying to integrate all that, it gets challenging.
Rhett: It does.
Russel: It’s challenging.
Rhett: My suggestion, Russel, is get help. If you’re an operator with 200 miles of pipeline, you’re probably not going to have a geohazards crew. That’s understandable. If you’ve got the threat, get help. There’s help that’s out there. There’s specialized consultants that can help you manage that and give you the tools that you need to augment what is already a successful IM program.
Russel: As with all IM programs, you really have to look at what are the threats I’m dealing with, and what are their priorities, and where do I invest my resources and time. Fundamentally, that’s the challenge.
I have all these tools available to me, and I have all these things I could do, but I need to spend my time, energy, resources, and money on those things that matter to me and my operation. That’s the hardest part in just the whole IM world. That’s the hardest part.
Rhett: Which is why threats often find operators rather than operators find the threat. That’s the reality. One of the other things you said is, you talked about what do we need? One of the important things — and this goes back to that whole Black Box Thinking — is the ability to knowledge share. If one operator has a threat or has a failure due to let’s just say a landslide on a mountain. You get where I’m going, right?
Russel: Yes. Yeah, absolutely. In fact, if I were going to get on my soapbox and talk about what does the industry really need to do to put another .0009 on its safety performance, get an order of magnitude improvement in safety performance, the answer is we must, we must, we must have a way to share threat information and share safety issues.
We have to have that because we need to get into the weeds and into the details and create common understanding across operators about these things. We can’t do that given the current regulatory framework because it would just too easily become punitive.
Rhett: Not even the regulatory framework, but I’ll be frank, the legal hurdles we have in our country. Operator X has a failure. It’s going to be what, two years before the NTSB report probably comes out, maybe even more, maybe three, four years before the NTSB report comes out, and that information’s public for other operators to latch onto. You got what, a three-year gap there?
Russel: Again, I’ll segue way back to the airline SMS gentleman that we’ve been talking to. He talks about when American Airlines was the first airline to put in place the Aviation Safety Action Program. They did it for a year, and they collected a whole bunch of data, and they dealt with a whole bunch of things that were going to have to change the union rules and union contracts because this can’t become punitive with the employees. They got over those hurdles. They collected the data, and they shared it with the FAA.
The FAA said, “This is horrible. You’ve got 250 of these issues.” They said, “Well, the reason you know that we have 250 is because we’re self-reporting. All the other airlines have this as well. You just don’t know to the extent that they have it.”
That’s a major, major mindset change in the regulatory approach. It’s a big lift, but I’m with you. We’re going to have a hard time getting an order of magnitude improvement safety performance without the ability to share information.
Rhett: As long as we’re filing criminal charges against executives of pipeline companies, you’re going to have a real hurdle there. And, as long as, again, when you have legal action that’s taken — and I’m not saying that doesn’t have its place, Russel — but the number of times I deal with an operator that has a failure, and they say we can’t share information with other operators. It’s like, “Well, there’s currently legal action pending on that pipeline.” That’s a lost opportunity.
Russel: That’s absolutely right. It slows down the industry’s ability to respond.
Russel: We’ll just leave it there. [laughs]
Rhett: Let’s kill that horse. It’s done. That rabbit’s done. We chased it. We will not return to the subject of blackbox thinking.
Russel: No. We’ll definitely return there. We’re just not going to go there any more today.
Rhett: I’m fine with that.
Russel: Rhett, this has been awesome. I appreciate it. We’ll work together and get some show notes — some of the standards and stuff you’re talking about — we can get them linked up in the show notes. If people are looking for those resources, they can go to the Pipeliners Podcast website and find this information.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Rhett. Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit pipelinerspodcast.com/win to enter yourself in the drawing.
Russel: If you have ideas, questions, or topics you’d be interested in, please let me know on the Contact Us page at pipelinerspodcast.com or reach out to me on LinkedIn. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.
Transcription by CastingWords