Chances are good that if you’ve worked on a natural gas pipeline project, upgraded a local distribution system or even fired your Viking range at home, the Gas Technology Institute (GTI) or its predecessor organizations were in some way related to the process.
Though GTI — as it is known today — came into being just 17 years ago, the not-for-profit research organization traces its roots to the 1940s and the formation of the Institute of Gas Technology (IGT) and later the creation of the Gas Research Institute (GRI) in 1976. It was the combination of these highly recognized industry organizations that GTI was born.
IGT, founded in 1941, had a mission to specialize in research and education pertaining to the production, distribution and use of natural gas and its byproducts. The organization supported the gas industry’s need to train graduate engineers. IGT was affiliated with the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) as a degree-granting institution from 1941 to 1994, when IGT moved off IIT’s campus to larger facilities in Des Plaines, Illinois.
As the gas industry evolved, IGT also evolved in parallel, focused on a world-renowned research program with support from many industry sources, including GRI. GRI was founded in 1976 in response to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) encouraging increased gas research and development. GRI administered research funding provided by a surcharge on shipments of natural gas sold by the interstate pipelines.
As a result of the phasing out of GRI’s funding mechanism, the gas industry encouraged GRI and IGT to combine activities. In 2000, the GRI/IGT combination became official. GTI has 360 employees, the bulk of whom are headquartered in Des Plaines, with additional locations across the country.
“We cross the entire value chain from E&P through gas operations all the way to end use — whether it be residential/commercial water heating or space conditioning, energy efficiency of buildings, commercial
food service, power generation or alternative transportation fuels — we run the whole gamut,” says Diane Miller, GTI senior marketing communications manager.
Miller adds that GTI played a role over the past 75 years in shaping the natural gas industry as it is known today through the development and deployment of new technologies including, plastic piping innovations, horizontal directional drilling (HDD) and other trenchless technologies, hydraulic fracturing and more. On the gas operations side, GTI works tirelessly to reduce risk, improve safety and increase efficiency through the development of technology
“GTI has spent the last seven decades developing high-impact technologies and providing technical insight to unlock the potential of natural gas and other energy resources making them economically and environmentally sustainable while reducing energy costs for consumers,” says Bill Liss, GTI managing director of Delivery & Utilization. With the creation of GTI in 2000, Liss notes that the organization sharpened its focus and became much more aligned with its customers’ needs.
“The company evaluated its program portfolio and reduced emphasis and redeployed assets from underperforming area that lacked scale and provided limited competitive advantage,” Liss says. “GTI strengthened its capabilities and corporate focus in areas that align with gas industry and customer needs and interest.”
One of those areas that always has and always will align with the industry is training. It is no wonder because training is a cornerstone of GTI, tracing its roots to IGT and its mission to train graduate engineers for the gas industry. As the industry developed, the training shifted to encompass all aspects of the industry. GTI’s certification programs let those taking the courses customize their training to best suit their industry-related needs. Two of the more popular certification course are the Registered Gas Distribution Professional (RGDP) and the Certified Gas Transmission Professional (CGTP) courses.
To date, GTI boasts training more than 70,000 gas professionals both in the classroom, customized onsite, online or via webinars. In 2013, GTI developed is Natural Gas Field Skills Training program, a series of 77 training modules aimed squarely at field workers in the natural gas operations and maintenance sector. According to Miller, utilities often use the modules to train both contractors on the fundamental processes or work with GTI to tailor the training to meet the utility’s specific requirements.
Sometimes, the training offered dovetails nicely with the research end of the organization. Case in point is GTI’s onsite, field-applied pipeline coatings workshop, which was born after nearly a decades-long study.
“The largest threat to steel transmission pipelines is corrosion. Third-party damage usually trumps for the smaller distribution pipelines, but if you go into the PHMSA database and look at all the incidents on transmission pipe, external corrosion is usually one of the top three every year, and because of that, it is always at the forefront,” says Daniel Ersoy, GTI R&D executive director, Energy Delivery & Utilization.
Ersoy was instrumental in the $4 million program that tested 684 coated joints from five different coating classes, using 75 coating systems from 18 different manufacturers. The tests were conducted at an outdoor facility adjacent to the Des Plaines headquarters. Partners on the project included BP, Chevron-Texaco, multiple local distribution companies, GRI before it sunsetted and several OEMs.
The field site measured approximately three football fields, and the soil conditions mimicked a variety of different types to make this a truly real-world study. It included proper drainage, cathodic protection, in some instances heat to imitate outlet at compressor stations, and a variety of sizes including 24- and 8-in. pipes to demonstrate transmission and distribution, as well as transmission laterals and tie-ins.
“It was a watershed program that tested upward of over 90 percent of all available field-applied coatings,” says Ersoy. “These are coatings that system owners or contractors have to apply in the field, and it is a difficult task to perform properly with a variety of materials and choices.”
The end result is an unbiased, real-world, product-specific way for owners and contractors to select coatings that are appropriate to their requirements. Ersoy points to the fact that there will always be a baseline need for this training as people cycle through the industry. “About 90 percent of the coatings tested are still on the market,” Ersoy notes. “So, the results are still applicable and the training is fundamental corrosion coating training, which never changes.”
Both training and research opportunities are based on GTI’s strong ties to the industry. In some instances, the industry comes to GTI. At other times, GTI bids on the research proposal, and other times GTI begins the process on its own. The research yields a number of products or processes used in the market today (see sidebar on page 21).
“The OTD member utilities really drive a lot of the efforts that we are doing,” says Dennis Jarnecke, GTI R&D director, Energy Delivery & Utilization. “Technologies such as the alternative flow stopping system came from Europe and the OTD members said it was something that was of interest to them, so first we brought it over for evaluation to see if it met their needs and challenges.”
OTD stands for Operations Technology Development and is a consortium of 24 gas utilities representing more than 45 million North American natural gas customers. The consortium manages about $10 million annually on research. Since its formation in 2003, much of the research has been through GTI.
“After the OTD members decided, based on what GTI found, that the technology meets their needs and challenges, there were updates that needed to be made to better fit our gas industry in North America,” Jarnecke continues. “We then worked with that manufacturer to make the improvements, and beyond that we helped with the implementation.”
Hosting its own conferences, like the annual Shale Exchange and CH4 Connections Methane Emissions conferences, plus regular attendance at American Gas Association (AGA) events, PHMSA Office of Pipeline Safety public forums on R&D and NASTT’s No-Dig Show, are among the industry outreach efforts that GTI is often involved with.
The involvement is not limited to North America, but includes the international natural gas industry as well. Miller notes that David Carroll, GTI president and CEO, is serving as the president of the International Gas Union (IGU) for the U.S. team through June 2018, when the triennial World
Gas Conference will be held in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with AGA’s 100th anniversary.
“Being around 75 years in the oil and gas industry, we are linked with a lot of customers at many levels, and many of the operators, so we make it our business to know what their needs are,” Ersoy says. “We proactively meet with our customers, the pipeline and local distribution companies, on a regular basis.”
In addition to physical equipment, GTI has made a name for itself in natural gas system modeling as well. Typically, the modeling comes as a reaction to new code requirements. A federal or state regulator will tell the industry, “Now you have to do this.”
For instance, Ersoy notes, there is “grandfathered” pipe out there without verified maximum allowable operation pressure (MAOP) records or material strength or grade.
“These projects get quite technical, and we may conduct finite element analysis, fracture mechanics, we may do probabilistic modeling or advance statistical techniques and regression analysis to develop causal and correlated models,” he says. “These deliverables are not a physical technology, but they are equally important, and we do that in different areas of
No matter if the research comes from GTI seeing a need, or is identified by OTD or other companies involved in the gas industry, or if new training is born from research work or an evolution of a program that traces its roots to the 1950s, GTI’s mission and core will always be the same.
“Everything GTI does in gas operations revolves around safety, integrity, efficiency, and the environment. These are always the key focuses of the industry,” Ersoy says. “With aging infrastructure and an underground crowded with multiple utility infrastructures, all of the technologies that come to bear on safety and integrity have always been at our core. From better locates of plastic pipe underground to right-of-way incursion to third-party damage prevention to improved materials that are tougher, stronger, and more corrosion resistant. We focus on those things that are the standard concerns of the industry that never go away. Other things may come and go but those are the core areas.”
GTI Top Products/Processes on the Market
Over the decades, GTI has introduced a number of technology advances that have brought much value to customers and consumers alike and made an impact in the market. Examples include:
1. Sustained 25-year, more than $600 million R&D program related to shale gas, including advances in hydraulic fracturing, horizontal drilling and advanced 3D imaging. Shale gas is now saving
U.S. consumers more than $75 billion annually.
2. Advances during the 1980s-1990s that enabled large-scale coalbed methane production to become a proven new natural gas resource.
3. With work from the 1980s on, GTI confirmed the suitability of polyethylene (PE) plastic pipe for gas distribution systems. New equipment, tools, instruments, techniques and guidelines for safe and efficient installation and maintenance were developed. Today, plastic pipe is the material of choice for natural gas distribution systems.
4. GTI helped pioneer development and market adoption of trenchless technologies and keyhole excavations solutions — which help reduce annual North American utility excavation and restoration expenses (which are on the order of $3 billion annually).
5. A key breakthrough in understanding and mitigation, GTI was influential in shining the light of science on the role of Microbial Induced Corrosion (MIC) in pipelines. GTI was the first one to use quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction (qPCR) techniques, and today is one of only a few laboratories in the world that offers accredited DNA testing.
Mike Kezdi is associate editor at North American Oil & Gas Pipelines.