Pipeliners Podcast


The Pipeliners Podcast is continuing a series on inline inspection (ILI) with Marc Lamontagne of the Lamontagne Pipeline Assessment Corporation. In this episode, host Russel Treat and Mr. Lamontagne discuss data. Specifically, what should operators do with all of the data they’re collecting?

Mr. Lamontagne provides his perspective on data integration, what to look for in the data as it pertains to the condition of pipes in the field, the importance of using visualization and mapping to enhance your view of data, and other tools that can help you process the data to make informed decisions and reduce risk.

ILI Data Integration: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms

ILI Data Integration: Full Episode Transcript

Russel Treat:  Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, Episode 39.

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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 to the Pipeliners Podcast. We appreciate you taking the time. To show that appreciation, we’re giving away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener each episode. This week, our winner is Michael Knight with Dominion East Ohio. To learn how you can win this signature YETI tumbler, stick around ‘til the end of the episode.

Marc, welcome back to the Pipeliners Podcast.

Marc Lamontagne:  Thank you, Russel. As always, it’s great to be here.

Russel:  I don’t know if you know this, but a week ago today we had an episode come out on demagnetizing pipe. That came up in our conversation when we were talking about magnetic flux leakage. I don’t know if you had a chance to listen to that, but you might want to.

It was very interesting. I certainly learned some things that I didn’t even know I needed to know about, until you and I had talked about MFL.

Marc:  I’ll have a listen.

Russel:  I asked you to come back because we’ve been talking about magnetic flux leakage, ultrasonic, geometric tools, and the various kinds of inline inspection. What we really haven’t talked about is the data, other than it creates a lot. I’d like to just tee this up and ask the question. As a pipeline operator, how do you deal with all this data that you’re collecting?

Marc:  That has been a question and a mountain to climb for many years. The data from each and every run can be fairly substantial. Of course, what we’re looking for is the needle in the haystack of anomalies. There are issues such as growth of corrosion and cracks, interacting anomalies, and the like.

Data integration is very important to inline inspection examinations. The data that’s provided by the vendors are typically in Excel spreadsheet format, providing locations and sizing, and comments of features within the pipelines, including not only the anomalies that you’re looking for that degrade the pipe, but also locations, valves, and various wall thickness changes, etc., that may help in the location of these anomalies.

Typically, this information used to be handled one at a time and anomalies [were sought] based on singular inspections. More and more, the anomalies are actually being integrated with multiple runs to examine, as I mentioned, growth and interaction with other anomalies.

Russel:  I have a hard time visualizing what kind of information would you have in these spreadsheets? What would that even look like?

Marc:  As everybody, I’m sure, that’s listening to this podcast is familiar with Excel spreadsheets, there are multiple columns containing various information. For instance, if you take a metal loss inspection, it would give you distance from beginning of run, location of the upstream girth weld, the distance from the upstream girth weld to the anomaly plus the orientation of the anomaly on the pipe, sizing information of the anomaly and then any commentary that might be provided by the vendor based on that anomaly. Plus, all the hard-wired features to the pipeline. There could be tees, bends, valves, and anchors. Anything that might be able to be detected by the tools that are going through the pipe, including above-ground markers that define specific locations for each and every inspection.

Russel:  Goodness. Marc, when we talk about these things my mind starts racing. I’m thinking about all this. I’m compelled by how much information this is.

Marc:  It has been overwhelming for operators to get a handle on all this information coming in. More and more, as all computer products go, the software to integrate these runs has become more and more prevalent.

Russel:  Right. Certainly, you need the numbers at some level, but it’s hard to work exclusively in the numbers. You need a way to visualize that. Is there any kind of standard approach to visualization of this kind of information?

Marc:  Each and every vendor has a typical visualization project product to examine the raw data that is provided. It gets more and more difficult once you get away from the specific vendor.

When you’re combining information from various runs, typically these days there are either in-house packages that are more prevalent created by the operator as opposed to packages that can be bought off the shelf. Visualization, of course, if you can look at a joint-by-joint basis containing anomalies as defined by various inspections — it’s a very powerful tool, when available.

Russel:  I have seen some commercial software that does this. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, and I’m familiar with it because I know about it. I’m not intimate with it because I know the details. There is a data standard, the PODS standard, which is the Pipeline Open Data Standard.

I know that’s used in the GIS world as an inventory of what’s been constructed. Do you know, is that standard used in the ILI world as a way to normalize the output data from these various inspection technologies?

Marc:  Yes, it is. As you say, it’s across at least North America. I’m not entirely familiar with the whole PODS process but I know that it is used along with line inspection information.

Russel:  There’s actually a conference coming up in Houston here in a couple of months. It’s recently been renamed. I’ll look up the details and get it linked up in the show notes. I know it’s the conference where PODS gets talked about. I’m hopefully going to be able to get to that and walk the floor.

Hopefully, I can find some people that maybe will come on the podcast to talk about those kind of details. We shall see. That is yet to be determined.

The reason I’m bringing this up, if I can get to a normal way to organize the data, it starts getting a lot easier to visualize the data. I know from our previous conversations that the best practice is to track girth welds, which is the place where the different segments of pipe are put together, and then to track the anomalies not only in terms of mile marker but also in terms of their relationship to the girth weld.

Why is the girth weld so critical in all of this?

Marc:  That is a easily definable location with the inline inspection tools. It’s a unique signature to each and every joint and a very good relative starting point to define, as you say, the locations of those anomalies.

It can be baselined from previous inspections and well-defined. Not only location but also pipe properties. Manufacturer, wall thickness, etc. It is the most minute point, if you want to put it that way, that is fixed within the pipeline and, therefore, the best reference.

Russel:  It’s a way — if I’m running a tool 20 miles down a segment of pipe — I can locate features more accurately because I can cross reference the mile marker reading I’m getting to the girth weld and find things in relation to the girth weld if I’m going to have to dig and mitigate.

Marc:  That’s right. After baselining inspections, operators can define a specific girth weld number to each girth weld and therefore each and every inspection thereafter can have the same girth weld number and be more easily relatable to the anomalies.

Russel:  Another way to think of this is that in constructing, operating, and maintaining a pipeline, what I’m looking at as my asset is each segment of pipe is a unique asset. If I can track it from manufacturer through its life, then pulling all that information together can be very helpful in terms of maintaining that and ensuring it’s being operated reliably and so forth.

I’m trying to get a picture in my mind about how would I try and represent data from these different tool runs and from these different tool technologies in a standard way. For the off-the-shelf or in-house tools, is there a standard way that people approach that?

Marc:  Generally, the inline inspections themselves denote boxes where anomalies are located. It is a relative position downstream from the girth weld as the start point and then a length and width is provided for each and every anomaly, as well as depth.

These boxes, length, width, and relative position to the girth weld, and orientation define its location on a single joint. In portraying multiple inspections, a visual tool can show a joint of pipe that has basically opened up to make it 2D from, say, the top of the pipe around to the top of the pipe.

It will display these boxes of anomalies from the various tool runs within that joint, whether they overlap or not.

Russel:  Kind of like if I took a pair of scissors, and I took a paper tube, and I cut it along the top, and then laid it flat, and drew a box around every place where there was a problem or something I wanted to look at or know about on the paper tube.

Marc:  That’s right. That’s a fairly typical view of joints with anomalies. Of course, with more computing horsepower there are visualization tools that are actually three dimensional and have heat maps showing locations of anomalies on the joints, as well.

The flattened-out piece of pipe with the box on it, of course, is pretty rudimentary but it works.

Russel:  I guess it’s also a way to look at a lot of data quickly. If I wanted to look at information in more detail, presenting it in 3D could be helpful.

Marc:  Yes.

Russel:  Being a geek, I’m sitting here thinking about VR goggles and a way to put on the VR goggles and see in three dimensions as I run with the tool down the pipeline.

Marc:  That is definitely being worked on. There’s software for that as well, presently.

Russel:  There you go. That’s pretty cool.

Is anybody using anything like that in production yet that you know of, or is that all R&D at this point?

Marc:  I believe it’s just…well, there are operators that are using some VR type software but, of course, it’s just getting a leg hold and in its initial stages.

Russel:  Let’s move on from talking about how do you visualize all this stuff. Let’s talk about what you do when you start finding these features that overlap. If I have multiple features that are on the same part of the pipe, I’ve got some metal loss, if I’ve got some cracking, if I’ve got some denting, those things are working together. What do I do about that and with that reality?

Marc:  There are typical prescriptive regulations about certain interacting anomalies and requirements to get after them in the field. Though there are means by which you can actually determine the remaining strength and criticality of anomalies, either through finite element analysis or other techniques and methods that have been developed over the years.

Actually, with this data integration there’s more than just the overlapping or interacting anomalies. There’s also growth of specific anomalies that can be captured, as well, and taken into account.

Russel:  This is probably one of those questions where the answer is, “It depends,” but what would be more important, the severity of the issue or how quickly it’s moving?

Marc:  That would be, “It depends,” but it would potentially be hand-in-hand. The growth would increase the criticality of the combined anomaly even that much more. The consideration has to be given to both. Typically, you look at a period of time in the future where as this progresses, what is the issue? What is the remaining strength?

Russel:  How do I go through a…If I get a new pipeline run and that data’s been analyzed. It’s been integrated. Now I’m going to take a look. How do I work through the process of determining where I’m at in terms of the integrity of that run of pipe and what I need to do about it?

Marc:  Typically, you start off with the singular anomalies and determine their criticality, whether it be cracking, corrosion, or geometric anomalies. Then, you take into consideration what you found from the integration process and whether there’s some combined anomalies, as well. Then, you take that into consideration.

Beyond that, you look at some trending issues such as particular orientations based on product, any other influences such as elevation changes. Do you have a higher density of anomalies at low points within the pipeline? Do you have high voltage lines running close to a segment of pipe?

Other interactions external to the pipeline could cause issues, which you want to get to the root cause of when you’re repairing a pipeline.

Russel:  That also raises another question. I know that it’s only been recently, in my experience within the last couple years, that I began to understand how these kind of things are identified and repaired.

Maybe you could talk a little bit about when you make a decision. You look at something and you say, “I’ve got an issue going on this particular joint of pipe at this particular location. Based on my calculations, I’m beginning to lose my ability to hold pressure.” What do you do to mitigate that? What’s the process for fixing the issue once you identify it?

Marc:  Of course, you have to get together with operations and contractors, as well, to be able to excavate the pipe. You want to do so safely. The consideration is given reductions in pipeline pressure while the excavation is taking place. Based on the type of anomaly, the criticality of the anomaly, there are different reparations that can happen.

If the anomaly has an appropriate remaining strength, the pipe can be cleaned, sandblasted, and re-coated. If there is a potential for growth, whether it be an internal anomaly or an anomaly that is more critical, then a sleeve can be put on the pipeline to reinforce in that particular location.

If it’s a widespread issue where there is a number of corrosion features over a greater area, then pipeline re-coating can take place over the required distance.

There are a number of ways to treat anomalies. Liquids pipelines, typically it’s re-coat or sleeve, depending on criticality, for the most part. Whereas gas pipelines you have more of an option to actually replace a joint of pipe if it’s substantial type anomalies.

Again, that depends on operations and location, etc.

Russel:  I didn’t even think about that but it’s easier to…if I have to empty a pipeline in order to replace a joint, that’s a much different kind of problem than I need to empty a gas pipe.

Marc:  Yes.

Russel:  A gas pipeline, just vent it. An oil pipeline, I’ve got to figure out a way to pump out the oil, whatever liquid. Even if I first get the oil out and put water in, I’ve still got to get the water out before I can replace the joint of pipe. That’s very interesting.

This brings another question to mind as we talk about that. That is, how do you prioritize all this work? I’m sitting here. I’m listening to this. I’ve got to assemble the data. I’ve got to analyze each run. I’ve got to analyze interactions that I’m finding because of multi runs. I’ve got to perform calculations and determine severity. I’ve got to figure out what the appropriate mitigating action is.

I would suspect that a pipeline of any size at all, and particularly if there’s any age involved in the pipeline, that…How do you prioritize what you’re doing?

Marc:  For each of the inspections that are received, you have to look at the immediate concerns. You look at depth of anomaly and you’re given a specific depth over which it becomes an immediate concern. Similarly, the remaining strength at each of the locations of the anomalies is taken into account to look for immediate concerns.

For instance, if there is a anomaly that has a remaining strength of less than 110 percent of the maximum operating pressure, then you would consider that as an immediate excavation. Or an anomaly that might be greater than 80 percent in depth would be considered an immediate excavation.

There are those defined, immediate requirements. Then, you have to consider growth, either corrosion growth or fatigue for cracking and look at it, as well as looking at its depth and remaining strength, the remaining life as the growth continues based on either your operations or the location of the pipe for corrosion growth, whether it be a heating influence, or strictly a soil influence, or even the product causing the growth.

Those are prioritized based on the calculated remaining life and/or depth that it achieves within the next few years before another reinspection occurs.

Russel:  How far apart are these inspections, typically?

Marc:  There are rules by code, depending on what industry you’re in, that inspections have to take place within a certain period of time. Then, as you go through your data integration and you determine the remaining life of anomalies, whether it be by depth or by remaining strength, then you can base your re-inspection interval based on those calculations, as well.

It’s often a practice that the re-inspection interval is less than that mandated within regulations and based on calculations of the anomalies found within the inline inspections.

Russel:  I have a whole new appreciation for what people do in integrity management.

Marc:  There’s a lot of information. ILI is just one portion of it. The other data integration that can be brought in, of course, is cathodic protection and all those measurements along the pipe. Even flow characteristics of certain products have some sort of issue. The temperatures of the products. There’s a whole myriad.

Russel:  I can see where soil condition, and soil movement, and even weather cycling. All of those things are going to have an impact on the serviceability or the integrity of the pipeline.

Marc:  That’s right.

Russel:  You start thinking about it. It’s like, “Oh, well, yeah. There’s this, and there’s this, and there’s this, and there’s this.”

For somebody who’s a novice in this domain, frankly, it’s a bit overwhelming.

Marc:  It can be. To try and get a handle on all this information and put it together so that it is aligned correctly, it’s quite a chore.

Russel:  No doubt. Of course, it’s very critical to the safe operating of pipe. If you look at the major incidents that we’ve had in the last 5 or 10 years, almost all of them have an aspect of mechanical failure in them.

It can be for all kinds of reasons, but there seems to always be an aspect of that. There’s always an aspect of the inspection or the integrity management program that needs to be looked at following one of these incidents.

Marc:  That’s right. Unfortunately, there are incidents. Learnings do come from incidents. Processes hopefully improve based on this.

Russel:  I definitely think you see that. In fact, if you follow the PHMSA statistics you can actually see it in the statistics for the industry. There certainly seems to be improvement. I’m always a little…I don’t like patting the industry on the back or claiming victory because you never know when the next problem’s around the corner.

It’s one of those things that you’re always striving to be perfect and yet perfection’s not really possible in the big scheme. It’s very interesting.

I think, of all the things that we’ve talked about, the one I think that maybe you and I need to have some conversation and figure out a way to dive into this a little bit more incrementally, is this data integration conversation. It seems like the biggest of the conversations we’ve had so far.

Marc:  Yeah, definitely. Tool technology is, of course, interesting and ever progressing. The data integration is certainly a huge portion of integrity management and very important.

Russel:  I’m kind of surprised that, as we were talking about visualization, being a software guy myself. I’m surprised that there’s not some off-the-shelf tools for this. It might be an opportunity. Who knows?

Marc:  There are a couple tools that can be purchased by operators. It is a burgeoning area.

Russel:  Marc, again, as always, thank you for participating. I’m going to do the normal thing I try to do where I try to sum it up in three key takeaways. I guess the first takeaway is, as I’ve said a number of times in our conversation, it’s a lot of information. Pulling it together and combining it is critical to an effective program.

The second part that I take away is that there really needs to be people who have knowledge of the particular program and the particular pipe. That is really critical.

I guess there’s a fair amount of art in this, just in terms of understanding the reality of a particular situation for a particular run of pipe, in terms of where it’s operated, what fluids it’s moving, how it was manufactured, how it’s being maintained, all of that.

Lastly, ideally, there’s a risk management approach to all this, because you can’t keep it all perfect. You have to make decisions about how to deploy your resources, and where to be looking, and how to be looking. I guess that’s my three takeaways,

Pull the data together, understand what’s important about your specific operation, and…

Marc:  Yeah. That’s a good answer.

Russel:  …have a program to prioritize, so you get to the most important stuff first. Sounds easy if you say it fast. [laughs]

Marc:  A very good summary. That’s excellent. [laughs]

Russel:  Again, thanks, Marc. I’m certain we’ll be having you back.

Marc:  Thank you, Russel. I enjoyed it as usual. Have a great day.

Russel:  All right. Thanks, Marc. You too. I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our ongoing conversation with Marc Lamontagne. 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.

If you have ideas, questions, or topics you’d be interested in, please let us know on the Contact Us page of pipelinerspodcast.com, or reach out to me on LinkedIn. Thanks again for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.


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