The Pipeliners Podcast is honored to welcome Cliff Johnson, the president of the Pipeline Research Council International (PRCI), for a timely and important discussion with host Russel Treat.
The discussion centers on how the PRCI has developed a data hub to collect, store, and share information from across the pipeline industry to continue advancing the industry’s capabilities and the creation of the PRCI Technology Development Center. You will learn about the work being done to improve safety, increase the use of technology in real-life and real-world settings, and the importance of training the next generation of professionals.
Be sure to share this episode with other pipeline professionals who are interested in the present use of technology and data to advance the industry.
PRCI Data Sharing Initiative: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms
- Cliff Johnson is the president of the Pipeline Research Council International (PRCI). Connect with Mr. Johnson on LinkedIn.
- The PRCI (Pipeline Research Council International) is the preeminent global collaborative research development organization of, by, and for the energy pipeline industry.
- Read more about the PRCI collaborative research projects, papers, and presentations.
- The PRCI 2019 Research Exchange Meeting (REX2019) takes place March 5-6 in Houston. REX provides PRCI member companies, key research partners, and external stakeholders with a report on important research results and provide a forum for an exchange of ideas. [Register Today]
- In 2015, the PRCI opened their Technology Development Center (TDC) in Houston for the advancement of pipeline research.
- Gas Certification Institute (GCI) provides fundamental measurement training on natural gas, crude, and liquid for measurement professionals. GCI also offers fundamental training on SCADA. The training is offered on-site in Houston.
- 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. Pigging is used to detect the presence of problematic areas and take measurements of the areas.
- PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) is responsible for providing pipeline safety oversight through regulatory rule making, NTSB recommendations, and other important functions to protect people and the environment through the safe transportation of energy and other hazardous materials.
- Howard “Skip” Elliott is the fifth Administrator of PHMSA. Elliott joined PHMSA after retiring from CSX Transportation in Jacksonville, Florida, where he served as Vice President of Public Safety, Health, Environment, and Security.
- NDE (non-destructive examination or evaluation) of welding is a method to evaluate the condition of welded material such as a pipeline to identify cracks, gaps, or other deformities.
- ASNT (American Non-Destructive Society) is a technical society for nondestructive testing (NDT) professionals. The organization provides a forum for the exchange of NDT technical information, educational materials and programs, and standards and services for the qualification and certification of NDT personnel.
- IOT (Internet of Things) or IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) is the use of sensors and connected devices for industrial purposes, such as communication between network devices in the field and a pipeline system.
- The PG&E Incident of 2010 involved a ruptured pipeline operated by the Pacific Gas & Electric Company. The rupture created a crater near San Bruno, California, caused an explosion after natural gas was released and ignited, and resulted in fires causing loss to life and property. [Read the full NTSB Accident Report]
- API (American Petroleum Institute) is the only national trade association representing all facets of the oil and natural gas industry, which supports 10.3 million U.S. jobs and nearly 8 percent of the U.S. economy.
- ASME is an international developer of codes and standards that support the practice of mechanical engineering.
- NACE is an international organization dedicated to protecting people, assets, and the environment from the adverse effects of corrosion.
PRCI Data Sharing Initiative: Full Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 54.
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 Christina Via with Pipeline Performance Group. Congratulations, Christina, your YETI is on its way.
To learn more about how you can win this signature prize pack, stick around until the end of the episode.
This week on the Pipeliners Podcast, we’re very lucky to have with us Cliff Johnson, President of the Pipeline Research Council. Cliff is going to talk to us about PRCI, and in particular their initiative for pipeline data sharing. Cliff, welcome to The Pipeliners Podcast.
Cliff Johnson: Thanks for the invitation. I appreciate it.
Russel: So glad to have you onboard. I’m really honored and privileged to have you on to represent PRCI. You guys are an important part of the pipeline industry. I don’t know that all of our listeners would know what PRCI is. Maybe you could start out by telling us about PRCI.
Cliff: That would be great. There’s a few things about us that would be interesting to think about. We started in 1952, as a lot of associations did, focused on a single issue. The pipeliners came together on the natural gas side with a real challenge. Once they found out that there was an opportunity to leverage long-term growth and development, they created the Pipeline Research Council.
The idea is to collaboratively solve the key challenges of our industry. Since 1952, we have grown to an association of approximately 75 operators and solution provider members. We look at some of the largest organizations in the world — both on the operations side and the solution providers, as well.
We’re fortunate to have, also, some of the best and the brightest of the research community as part of PRCI. We’re able to provide solutions that are real-time, real-need, today for the industry and be able to apply them right away.
Our breakup right now is we look at eight technical areas. We look into corrosion. We look into the design materials and construction. We look at the integrity in the inspection, the surveillance operations and the monitoring, look at underground storage, look at compressor and pump stations, measurement, and subsea.
These are the key technical areas that we invest all of our time and effort into to ensure the best and brightest is being done, and to enhance the integrity and the safety of the systems.
Russel: How did you come to be involved with PRCI?
Cliff: My background is kind of a long story, but the short one is that I was working for another non-profit dealing with that technical aspect of corrosion engineering and science. Then I had the opportunity to lead this organization to really help drive the overall pipeline industry, not just from a subset of corrosion, but from the big picture.
How do we increase safety and integrity to continually improve our systems and continue to push? Right now, we’re the safest mode of transportation for oil and gas, and so we want to continue to leverage on that. I had the opportunity to come in and take over the leadership of this organization.
Russel: One of the other things that the listeners might not be aware of, but you guys have a major facility in the Houston area. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about that as well?
Cliff: We’re very fortunate. About five years ago, we built the PRCI Technology Development Center (TDC) there in Houston, Texas. It’s an eight-and-a-half acre facility that allows us to do detailed research and development on the next generation of tools, processes, and personnel for pipeline system safety and integrity.
Right now, we have over 1,500 pipe samples in our inventory, from diameters of 6-inch all the way up to 42-inch. Real-world defects is the majority of our inventory. We do have some manufactured, but the real uniqueness is the real-world defects.
Usually, samples are given by our members that we then can run tools and processes on to see how they really work against them. Right now, our major focus is looking at improving inline inspection and non-destructive evaluation, both on the tool side and on the individual side, as we’ll continue to evolve and push them to develop.
We also have the ability on-campus to do training and to host meetings there that allows the industry to really come together to see how we can drive to the next level of importance that we need to continue to push forward.
Russel: Do you guys ever do anything like an open house that allows folks to just come out and see the facility?
Cliff: That’s a great question. We’ve actually had two in the last year, and we’ll continue that process of having two open houses per year.
We were fortunate the first one this year that I actually had the opportunity to give a tour to, and host the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) associate administrator, Skip Elliott, for the day, and give him a feel for what the industry is really doing.
He walked away impressed to see how we’ve come together, and how we’re trying to pool the opportunity to continue to go forward.
PHMSA has been partners with us from the beginning of the center. They actually funded the development of the pull strings that we have there. This is a great partnership between PRCI, the industry, and PHMSA, to continue to drive to greater and safer opportunity.
Russel: I haven’t had the opportunity to get out there as yet, but I’m looking for the opportunity because I’m just the kind of geek that would find that fun.
Cliff: Russel, I tell everybody it’s like a kid in the candy shop for engineers. If you can think it, we can make it. It’s one of those cool places to come out and play a little bit. When you’ve got some down time, come on by. We’d love to have you.
Russel: Yeah, we’re definitely going to have to make that happen. There’s not that many facilities where you can test real-world things in pipeline, so the opportunity to do that is just huge.
Cliff: I didn’t mean to cut you off there, Russel, but it’s an important thing I had to jump back in because I’m so excited about what we’re doing there. It’s really neat. The facility, when we built it, is state-of-the-art.
It’s a really unique atmosphere and we’re working closely with the industry right now. We’re probably in the process of building a 20-inch pipeline loop around the facility, which will basically be about almost 800 feet worth of pipe that we’ll have at one length and then another 800 around the corner and be able to test how these things work both in dry and liquid environments.
Russel: That’s just so very cool. Let me transition. I want to transition the conversation, Cliff, to what I asked you in to talk about. I know that PRCI is getting involved in a data-sharing initiative. I want to drive a little deep because that’s kind of the purpose of this conversation. Tell me a little bit about what is the data sharing initiative.
Cliff: A data-sharing initiative actually flows well from our prior conversation on the technology development center. The Technology Development Center gives you a point in time and a short evaluation of tools and techniques. We can do runs to see if they may work. This is the opportunity for people to come in with new ideas or current tools to see how we can push them.
Now, what we want to do is go to the next level; go into a data-sharing environment with all the real runs — the tool runs out in the environment — with over 50,000 miles or more of knowledge we have on just a small area that we’ve inspected the last few years. How can we learn from that? We’re going to create a data science, a data hub, shall we say, inside PRCI that really looks to bring in the knowledge from prior work, all the data developed through those various testing and researches that we’ve done.
Also, bring in future information — either donations from members or non-members — into the information repository. That allows us to grow and to make decisions based off the data.
If you think about it, this is like instead of having 10 marbles and looking at it and going, “Well, the marbles all must be blue,” now we have hundreds of thousands of marbles. We can see blue is only one of the many colors that we have. We’re able to make smart decisions based on what we see.
If we do this right, we’ll be able to have predictive discussions about what the tools can do, current state, what they may be able to do in future state, and how do we get there from here on the research side.
Russel: Is this a PRCI initiative or is this something more broader than just PRCI?
Cliff: This is something that PRCI began about three, three-and-a-half years ago and has begun slowly evolving. It’s not something we’re going to run into. We wanted to do it right the first time and really walk through the process. There’s a lot of challenges to doing it and there’s a lot of concerns, but we began it about three years ago.
In the meantime, since then, the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration has been directed by the U.S. Congress to create something similar in a voluntary information sharing network on just inline inspection. PRCI has been heavily involved with that process. We’ve been sharing what we’ve been doing on the data hub.
Now, we’re creating that universe inside PRCI. As an information point for PHMSA, as a resource instead of creating it themselves, maybe they’ll come back to PRCI and use us as the leverage point for that information. That will allow the best in the industry to continue to work together, to stretch into a pool. Once PRCI is successful, we’ll have a library of multiple data hubs.
We’ll have information on inline inspection, NDE on welding, on corrosion — the various topics that we’ve researched before. I mentioned the eight areas. That’s how we’ll have research to set up the knowledge hub. This will create an environment very unique to PRCI, but also something we can use for the industry and be able to have members and non-members participate in.
Russel: Is leak detection one of the areas that’s being looked at for the data hub?
Cliff: Leak detection is something we’ll definitely be bringing into the process. Right now, we’re going to put version one of the hub out into the environment probably in mid-to-late 2019. After that, we’ll be looking for other tools to bring in.
Inline inspection is our first focus; leak detection will be on next. Then, we’ll have right away surveillance, monitoring, and so forth down the road as we bring in our key aspects of our industry.
Russel: That’s a huge amount of data, Cliff. How are you going to store all that stuff?
Cliff: That’s the fun conversation. We get all of these IT geeky guys around a table and go, “Okay, what do you do now?” and to see their face light up because now they have access to more knowledge and more information. To be able to use the artificial intelligence that we have to be able to make interpretive knowledge is great.
I think what we’ll be able to do is create a structure or a platform where we’ll be able to use the cloud and the local opportunities to really leverage the computing capabilities that are out there today. As they continue to come online with more and more every day with the Internet of Things, we’ll see this environment become rich and fuller every day.
Russel: Being a bit of a computer guy, I’m thinking about this, and I’m certainly no inline inspection expert, but I know how much data those things generate. The idea of creating even a representative repository of all the different things that various operators find, just the sheer size of that, it’s daunting.
Cliff: It is overwhelming, and one of our base projects that we’re using to get leverage is, we looked at the performance of crack inspection tools. From there, we received millions of lines of data. Like you said, that was a huge amount of information. How do we understand all the blips and dots that are there to make an informed decision?
It was just that, and we were able to verify the success and the validity of crack tools, how strong they are, by showing these trends in the data that really prove it out over and over.
It also began not only to show how that worked, but also show limitations, which I think is almost more important because we know our tools do perform very, very well. However, no tool solves all problems, so how do we know which tools to use for what problems?
This data began to show that this tool worked really, really well here. However, you change the environment just slightly, that tool didn’t perform as strong as another tool. It’s really putting the equation together in the appropriate format, but you’re right.
The amount of data we’re talking about, this is an unbelievable amount of information, but we’ve seen a couple of other model industries that we’re looking after. The FAA and nuclear are some of the poster children for how this has been done, and where this can be going.
We’re working to follow their model in the behaviors that they’ve already put in practice, so there’s a good learning system that we can get from somebody else out of our industry to help us guide our way down the path. It’s not like we’re breaking brand new water.
Russel: Right. Exactly. I spent some time in the Air Force and spent some time around the space agency, so I have a little bit of a sense of how these kinds of things are done, but I also have a bit of a sense of the challenges.
Just the amount of data is one challenge, but the other thing, you’ve got all these different vendors, and the nature of their data and its format is different. I suspect that’s one of the challenges that you guys are trying to work through.
Cliff: Yeah. That’s going to be one of the unique things. Our industry has never really pushed for standardization in some of the reporting. That’s been a little bit of a challenge.
As you know, trying to compare tool run to tool run, even though they’re in the same company and have the same vendor, sometimes the data is just not interpretable between one thing and the other. There is a greater need in our industry to begin to have more standardization and more consistency on reporting and structure.
One of the things we were able to do with our current project is we took those barriers away. We sent the researchers out to the operators and said, “Give us your data, whatever format you have it in, and then we’ll standardize it on the back end.”
The success of that first project really showed a unique pattern for us to think about moving forward. I think we’ll see more of that, but I also think you’ll see the industry begin to learn and evolve on how they want to leverage their own information.
You think about it, we’ve had this data for decades upon decades in the industry, and unfortunately, not everything has been computerized. Some of it is just paper files someplace back in the archives.
You remember after the PG&E failure in California, they basically rented out a basketball arena for all of the files they had that weren’t digitized yet.
As we move more to digital formats and be able to interpret it, the consistency of the structure of data is going to be critical, so the data hub creates that uniformity. It will begin helping us process, I think, more information more rapidly because we’ll have a consistent format as well.
Russel: Do you think PRCI will publish a standard around the data and formatting?
Cliff: PRCI doesn’t develop standards. What we’ll probably end up doing is working with some of our industry partners, either API, ASME, NACE, or others to produce the data, and the format, and recommendations on what we need to be doing. We look to those bodies to help us develop those standards.
Once we’ve gone through the process of identifying look and feel, we’ll probably turn it over to those groups to create the industry standards.
Russel: That makes perfect sense, but the guys who write the standards are not necessarily the guys who do the primary research. It’s two different kinds of work, right?
Cliff: Yeah, you’re exactly right on target. One of the things my background was standards development bodies, and looking at the group now, the cornerstone of good standards is good research. If we do our jobs well and provide the right data, that helps the standards bodies to develop the correct information they need to be able to set up.
There’s a desire as we begin doing more and more of this. Historically, I guess about 10 years ago, there was a series of inline inspection standards drafted, how to select the tools, how to train the personnel, interpretation of the data.
We’re in the next level now, working with those groups to develop a standard of protocol and reporting. It probably isn’t too big of a step. Just to give them more information to help them understand how to do it, and how much information we can actually access.
Russel: I think that’s actually a big deal, given where we’re going. I’ve done a number of episodes recently on leak detection, API 1175, Leak Detection Program Management, and likewise on pipeline SMS.
One of the things that rolls around in my brain when I have these conversations is, there’s a need to pull all this data together for pipeline management in order that they can understand, “Where do I take my limited resources and apply them in order to get the most bang for the buck from a safety and operations effectiveness standpoint?”
There’s a lot of challenges because I don’t think there’s any pipeline operator where all these different disciplines exist within a single management system. It’s like silos of automation, if you will.
The reason I’m asking this question and noodling on this with you, I wonder what role PRCI might be playing more broadly beyond just inline inspection data, but all the other kinds of data that might make sense to share.
Cliff: That’s a really good question. I appreciate it, Russel. When you think about it, PRCI and all the associations have a unique opportunity. Like you mentioned, inside the companies, they’re very stove pipe, insular knowledge bases. Either they have inline inspection, they have corrosion, they have leak detection, and they’re somewhat siloed.
If an association is doing its job well, like I hope PRCI is, we’ll be able to help our members to see across the normal boundaries and to show an asset from cradle to grave. If we can produce data that helps them move through those various life stages of an asset, that’s the win, and that’s where the data hub really comes in.
It can be very, very strong, especially in light of the current situation where you’re seeing a very maturing of the workforce and the evolution to the next generation. How do they know what to do?
Previously, our workforce has been around pretty consistently strongly for 30 to 40 years. These guys have been working the same pipes. They know the system very well. It’s a very comfortable situation. With the new generation, they don’t have that expertise and knowledge that we would hope for.
What you need to do is provide the data that helps them make informed decisions based on best engineering analysis. If we have the data there in front of them and says, “Here is the best way to interpret X and Y. Based on your knowledge, here’s the next steps you should be taking.”
If PRCI does this job well, back to the original question, is there more inline inspection? I think if you look at all the data from a variety of different aspects of the cradle to the grave to the pipeline system, to ensure the best operational structure for that asset.
Let’s be realistic. When we put a pipeline in the ground today, it’s not coming out any time soon. We’re talking about a 75-to-100-year life in most of the systems. That’s doable if you know your system. The more data you have, the better you know, the better you can go after the key target areas.
This is a very good approach to long-term asset preservation, using the data to make some wise, informed decisions. You mentioned the idea of how you educate your leadership and the financial leaders. If you show someone data and say here’s the trending analysis on our system, that has so much more strong tone, whereas just saying our leak analysis has X and Y.
We can also say this. Here’s the trending data on that. Here’s why that’s important. You’re building an equation that begins to help them understand where this all is going and how it works, and showing the data as a tool to make smart and informed decisions.
We’ll begin with inline inspection. We’re going to grow from there to NDE, look into leak detection, look into corrosion, welding, and so forth down the road.
The data volume that’s inside PRCI currently alone with no new information is overwhelming, but it’s the right thing to do to create the data hub to begin leveraging that information that we’ve had historically to make smarter decisions going forward. As you get more information into the system, it just makes it stronger and stronger and stronger. That’s what we’re trying to do.
Russel: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. I think that’s an awesome initiative and can provide some real value for the industry going forward.
One of the things that this conversation is causing me to think about is the training requirement. And, one of the unique things about the TDC is the opportunity to train engineers about how to run tools and what’s really going on. You have a unique opportunity there because of the nature of the facility and the kind of things you can do beyond R&D but also to support training. I think as you get these data formats and you create this data hub, it’s likewise going to create opportunity for training.
Cliff: That’s a great observation. If you look at our industry, we can continue to develop really strong phenomenal tools, which we will continue to do. If we don’t enhance and continue to train and develop the personnel, you’re really going to have a disconnect. It’s not going to be able to use the information that you have produced.
Right now, for example, we have a large number of information produced from inline inspection tools. How does the interpreter of that analysis understand what’s important in that criteria? Which dots are you looking at? Which blips are important? How do you do that?
Right now there’s a big push in our industry to develop NDE — Non-Destructive Evaluation — technician qualification tools. There’s currently not a consistent qualification across the board. Each of the operators has their own internal qualification for NDE tech.
Using the technology development center one of our members early on was testing all their level three technicians and unfortunately saw a very high failure rate. It wasn’t that they weren’t smart NDE techs, they just hadn’t really been pipe specific. There is a push between ASNT (American Non-Destructive Society) and the API also to begin looking at and developing qualifications and using the TDC as a point of testing and qualifying of individuals. Why would you use the TDC for something like that?
With the samples that we have, real-world samples, we’ll be able to see the tools being run and the verifications right there, real-time, in your hands. Having the samples there helps them dramatically improve their abilities and execution capabilities of how they do their testing and understanding of the systems. That interpretation becomes much stronger.
The TDC and the hub become a kind of synergistic tool to also leverage and develop the personnel behind it.
Russel: Yeah, I think that’s right on target. I think one of the values for any engineer is when I can build a mental model that correlates between something I’ve actually seen like the pipe itself and something I see, the data, and building a mental model about how those things correlate. There’s just a huge value in that.
It reminds me of one of my professors in university that I really disliked. It was a geo-technical guy. I won’t unpack the story, but let’s just say that the lab work that he made us do that I thought was really, really hard is probably some of the most useful training I got because it built a mental model between soils and its ability to support a foundation. It’s a similar thing with what you can do at the TDC.
Cliff: That’s a great thing. One of the things my dad used to say is you always can be book-smart. Until you put it into the real world, it doesn’t really work. There’s a lot of phenomenal engineers in our business and there will continue to be some phenomenal people. Sometimes, though, they don’t have the exposure to the pipeline to be able to see what a tool run looks like versus the real-world defect.
With the TDC, to be able to walk out there and to see the defects on the pipe and to see how the tools read or didn’t read is sometimes even more important. Tools missed a reading, then it gives the technicians a lot more knowledge and comfort on what is really going on. That visual hands-on aspect of learning versus just having book smarts is really a critical piece.
Last week I was down in Houston for this series of meetings and there were technicians out there doing a workshop. I had a chance to walk out there and watch them use the tool, real-life, and to be able to interpret it as I saw it. It was really neat to see. It was just a fun opportunity, like you said, a kid in a candy shop mentality for these guys.
You have a sample there that they may not ever see because they see their tool runs from the field. They may not ever see the pipe itself. This gives that a chance to see that as well.
We went one step further. There’s actually a project we’re looking at where we’re trying to see how do people learn. We’ve actually built a pit at the TDC where there’s about 15 feet of pipe that has about a foot-and-a-half of exposure on the bottom. The technicians actually get into the ditch and are actually able to do the tools and to see how it really works.
It’s been neat to see how they learned what they knew to go into that pipe and how well it was done and the execution. I’m very curious the results of that research. It should be done in the next couple of months to see how this really works and to begin leveraging that conversation.
Russel: Yeah, it’s very interesting, this conversation. One of our affiliate companies does training in gas measurement and the value of the hands-on is really important.
We’ve been doing this almost 20 years now. What we have found is that part of this transition — you talked about the older generation that’s got 30 or 40 years working with the pipe versus the newer generation coming in — one of the distinctions between those generations is the older generation kind of grew up being more familiar with the mechanical aspects of things and the younger generation grew up being more familiar with the technology, the data aspect of things.
Whereas, 20 years ago, the focus was taking the older generation and teaching them the technology, now the focus needs to be more on taking the younger generation and teaching them the mechanical aspects. Really, not even teaching them, but getting them experience with it.
Things like the TDC I think are very important for the future of our industry and to continue to build and extend capability. The nature of what we need to do to move the industry forward is we really need to take these guys that are very comfortable with technology — they get AI, they get data, they get technology — but they don’t have the mechanical experience that guys like yourself and myself probably got growing up. I took cars apart in my driveway. That’s what we did in my neighborhood.
Cliff: Exactly. I think you’re seeing just an evolutionary change. Someone asked me the other day, “Why are you doing the data hub? Isn’t this something that PRCI should have always done?”
The answer is yes, we should have, but historically the people in the field knew what they knew. They knew how to do it. They knew where to find the data. The new PRCI had it and they knew how to comb through it. Today it’s instant gratification. What can you do for me in the next 30 seconds?
Moving to a data hub environment allows that kind of conversation to occur. Instead of taking the car apart in the driveway, now you can do it online in 10 seconds and say, “Oh, that’s how it works,” and go out and do it much faster.
I think what we’re doing with the data hub is also to help the current generation but also the future generations to access the knowledge that they aren’t used to finding. Now they can find it in a much rapid, more useful form than ever before.
Russel: It also goes to how things are built. When I was dealing with electronics early in my career, you actually had to know how the processors worked. Nobody worries about that anymore. The processor doesn’t work, you throw it away and you get a new one.
Now it’s so easy to get to the data. When we started or when I started, getting to the data wasn’t easy. You had to get data created and then there were things you needed to do to make sure the data was accurate.
A lot of it was pulled out in paper. You didn’t even have it electronically. We’re just in a different world and a different reality. The other thing that I think is material to this conversation is that the public’s expectation of us as an industry is different.
If we’re going to move to zero incidents, zero releases, zero issues, we’re going to have to get better at doing these things. Our limited resources need to be applied to the system more than the data collection.
Cliff: Yes. There’s something we’ve got to regain some trust of our public. We are still the safest mode of transportation, but, unfortunately, when we fail we do it pretty big. We’ve got to find a way to reassure the public that you’re going into the next level.
Time and time again surveys have been done asking the public, “What would it take for you to gain more confidence back into the oil and gas industry?” Consistently it is research, research, research. Show me you’re pushing the envelope. Show me you’re using the latest and greatest technology. Show me that you’re evolving as fast as everything else is. My phones change every six months. How fast is your pipeline changing? How much are you using of all the technologies out there? How much smarter can you be than you are currently?
I think that’s really where you see an organization like PRCI overall really helping to shift the discussion. You’re bringing the TDC. You’re bringing the pipeline data hub. You can see how this begins to show the public that we are pushing boundaries. We are trying to go the next evolution.
When you talk to college kids about what profession you’re going to go into, very few of them are waving their hand and going, “Oh, pipeline, pipeline, pipeline!” They see it as an old science. They see it as a dirty science. They see it as something that’s boring.
I’ll tell you right now, and I’ll be the first one to say it. It’s anything but. Look at some of the technologies we’re putting in place. You’re seeing the next evolution of things. You’re seeing us push basic science as far as possible.
I mentioned before about the 100-year-old pipe. We have that currently in the United States on the East Coast. That pipe is performing really, really well because we’re pushing the science boundary all the time.
We’ve got to re-educate the youth that there is an opportunity in what we’re doing. Really see in the next opportunity how things can be changed and modified, because right now they just say, “Oh, it’s a dirty old science. Global climate change, blowing up stuff.” Anything but. Our industry is really pushing the boundaries and it’s really neat to see and be a part of that. It’s just a blast.
Russel: Yeah, I think one of the challenges we have, Cliff, with the younger generation is where science is applied and it gets a lot of press are where you have a lot of people interacting like air transportation.
Everybody pretty much in our culture these days has flown in an airplane, so you have some experience of what airplanes are like. When we do a really good job in the pipeline industry, nobody ever hears about us.
Part of the challenge is getting the word out that, hey, there is this industry and it’s very technical and it’s very important to the infrastructure of the country and to the prosperity of the country. It’s a career that can make a difference.
It’s challenging to get the word out and hopefully through the podcast and other things that are happening we can get that word out to the next generation of engineers. Because it is, it’s a good business to work in.
Cliff: It’s a phenomenal place to be. For transparency, I know the industry is constantly pushing for the next — our oil and gas industry guys are the ones who are putting a huge amount of money into alternative fuels. Where do we go next?
We all want to make sure that we’re on the cutting edge, to make sure we’re getting the best out there. As energy demand continues to grow, we want to find all sorts of energy — not just oil and gas — but whatever else we can put in the system. Even hydrogen, even alternative fuels, biomass, whatever it may be. To do that we’ve got to push the boundaries of science and tech. This is a growing, live industry that needs a lot of great brains to come into it, to find the best and the brightest to really get engaged.
That’s really one of the things that we’re doing, to see the industry push that with podcasts and other ways to get consumable knowledge out there. I think sometimes we get kind of old and stodgy as old pipeliners who forget all the new tech that’s out there. Having a podcast is one of the newer things, of course, people are using. Looking at LinkedIn activities, looking at social media. How do we help change the dialogue?
You hear a lot of negatives about our industry but you don’t see enough positives about what’s really going on. I give a lot of credit to the APIs of the world and to the various operators I’ve seen — Chevron and others with the energy of doing. You’ve seen a much more positive campaign.
It’s tough. We’ve had some unfortunate failures. We’ve got to prove ourselves first, then we’ll regain the trust of our public.
Russel: Yeah. Being in the pipeline business is a little like being an offensive lineman in football. You only get your number called when you screw up.
Cliff: Yes, you do too many holds, you get the flag. You go nameless the entire game, your day is good.
Russel: That’s right. Exactly. Cliff, this has been awesome. I thank you so much for coming on. Would love to have you back. We should talk about some of the other initiatives that PRCI is involved with.
I think the listeners would be very interested to know what other kind of programs you all are pushing and where you’re extending the state of the art. Thanks for coming on and we would sure like to have you back.
Cliff: Russel, I look forward to it. To close on a very good note, we have what we call our annual research exchange happening March 5th and 6th in Houston, Texas. It’s a great showcase of what is being done in our industry and where things are going.
If you want more information, you can visit our website at prci.org to find out more about the upcoming exchange and be able to attend. I look forward to having everyone there. Russel, again, thank you so much for the opportunity. Look forward to talking to you soon.
Russel: Thank you so much. We’ll make sure we get that on the website show notes page so that people can find that information easily.
Cliff: Excellent. Thank you.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Cliff Johnson. Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler.
Simply visit pipelinerspodcast.com/win to enter yourself in the drawing. If you would like to support this podcast you can leave us a review on Apple Podcast, Google Play, or whatever smart device application you use. You can find instructions at pipelinerspodcast.com.
Russel: If you have ideas, questions, or topics you’d be interested in, please let us know on the Contact Us page at pipelinerspodcast.com or reach out to me on LinkedIn. Thanks again for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.
Transcription by CastingWords