By Debbie Sniderman
Due in part to several well-publicized pipeline failures in the past decade, the pipeline coatings and corrosion industry has embraced the need for improved technologies, quality control and maintenance procedures from first production through installation and operation. Such incidents as the 2010 gas line explosion in San Bruno, California, have increased public scrutiny while driving new regulatory mandates for oil and gas pipeline operators to improve safety and integrity.
As a result, the market is pressing for improved data collection, including the tracking and traceability of pipe coatings and welds, leading to more high-quality inspections with updated inspection tools and industry certifications. Real-time remote monitoring of assets is also becoming desirable as clients place a greater emphasis on quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC).
Kevin Garrity is a fellow at NACE and executive vice president of the integrity solutions division at Mears Group Inc., and he says the market is saddled between trying to effectively and safely manage an aging infrastructure of approximately 2 million miles of pipelines and a growing infrastructure of new builds moving liquid and gas hydrocarbons around the United States due to shale development. Both sides of the market are trying to preserve and identify areas that are at risk and implement mitigating strategies before tragic consequences occur.
Today’s market emphasizes risk-based management technologies that capture extensive amounts of data and monitors assets.
“Many companies have risk programs with built-in algorithms,” Garrity says. “As more and better data comes in, they can better predict where threats and risks exist and change the way they respond. Before, when a new pipeline was constructed with cathodic protection and corrosion control coating, it was believed that safety was one of its lowest concerns on the risk scale. Today’s market looks at things differently.”
Many more inline inspection technologies are being used to detect flaws in pipelines, even in new pipelines. Intelligent tools with transducers and receivers are sent through pipes in both older pipelines and for the first few years after laying a new pipeline.
“At the San Bruno explosion of 2010, the failure was associated with a small piece of pipe that had been installed many years before as part of the original construction,” Garrity says. “No one foresaw the type of weld could have had the problem it did. Following the explosion there, more emphasis is being placed on ensuring operating companies know all of the specifics about their pipeline system and its infrastructure, down to the type of welds used and coatings applied. As an industry, we have become more aware of the need to detect and respond to problems and aware that there are threats beyond the traditional ones, namely external loss due
NACE has been a driving force in developing a standard recommended practice and offering guidelines to tools and techniques to detect coating flaws, he says.
“I personally know about five cases where intelligent i-line inspection has detected potential problems that were acted upon,” Garrity adds.
“If they weren’t detected, they may have manifested with unintended consequences.”
Coatings survey teams traverse over the tops of pipelines and use instruments that detect areas below ground where there are compromised protective coatings to be excavated and repaired. In the past, this would only have been done on older systems. Now, it’s done as part of the new build process to provide reasonable insurance that investing in a state-of-the-art protective coating system will pay off. Any damage during installation from backfill or directional bores is detected early with these techniques.Operators implement these services shortly after a pipeline has been built and put into service as an early warning system.
In the Last Five Years
According to Bobby Bryan, senior director of strategy and corporate development in corrosion protection at Aegion Corp., a global infrastructure protection company, the need for corrosion control remains strong. He says the mature coatings and corrosion protection market is fragmented with many providers fighting for share and differentiation. Larger group acquisitions such as Brand Energy’s recent acquisition of Matcor and EN Engineering’s acquisition of Russell Corrosion are consolidating the market. He also believes that depressed oil prices may defer some maintenance and delay new construction projects until prices rebound.
Over the last decade, regulations have become stricter, increasing the performance and limiting the number of types of coating materials that can be used on pipelines. For example, asphalt coatings are still used in other parts of the world, but not in the United States. In the last five years, regulations have also affected where coatings have to be applied to the pipe.
Fewer can now be applied in the field. To meet regulations, very high-performing coatings require more complicated application processes and more stringent quality control than can be done in the field. Regulations now also require coatings that not only protect the pipeline against corrosion but also protect the product inside the pipe.
For inspectors, the market has increased tremendously. Eric Brackman, owner of RFI Consultants, an independent NACE-certified coatings inspection and coatings consulting company based in Arizona, says many pipelines are very old and they’re being checked more regularly and on a more consistent basis. The cathodic protection systems are also monitored more closely than ever before.
Instruments helped perform inspections have also undergone many advancements in the last five years. It is becoming industry standard that most gauges are digital for measuring surface roughness of clean steel and many other properties. There are new instruments for measuring ambient conditions during surface prep and dry film thickness, and improved instruments to verify that coatings are void-free in continuous films to help mitigate future corrosion.
More measurement tools now have Internet recording capability for real-time data reporting and use GPS for location information. They provide better documentation of where and when the work occurred, and more companies are providing cloud-connected and wireless equipment to make field readings faster, easier and more accurate. Gauges now send readings into inspectors’ mobile phones making it unnecessary to write
Some digital equipment, such as for discontinuity testing, tells the inspector which test methods to use. It contains and displays the method and correct settings. Brackman says this makes it easy to start testing and removes a lot of guesswork. Digital videos also resonate with his clients. Taken during inspections, videos not only provide a snapshot in time, but also show the client the process that was taken.
Remote monitoring to provide real-time data on corrosion control systems on buried pipelines is another trend seen in the last five years. These systems extend the inspector’s abilities to operators full-time, giving them something they didn’t have in the past.
Monitoring equipment gathers local data at test points, transmits it to a repository database and generates automatic daily reports with alerts when operations are outside set points. Reports are downloaded through the internet, providing automation and eliminating opportunities for manual transfer errors. Operating companies can dispatch personnel to investigate and remedy situations so they don’t compromise the efficacy of the corrosion control system.
New QC and Maintenance Procedures for New Installations
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has been developing the “Mega Rule,” which could be finalized in 2016 and will impact new and existing pipelines. The rule will include the verification of maximum operating pressure, material records, and the re-evaluation of existing pipelines for integrity issues.
Also, the government now requires training for applicators and inspectors. Pipeline industry-specific operator certifications are now needed to apply coatings, prepare surfaces and perform inspections. According to Ken Tator, these were driven by safety laws passed in the late 1990s and implemented in the early 2000s. Tator is chairman of the board at KTA-Tator Inc., a consulting engineering company that specializes in protective coatings and linings, laboratory and failure analysis and coating instrument sales and service that also provides training programs.
“Although it took time for contractors in the pipeline industry to
come up to speed,” Tator says, “other than the nuclear industry which has had similar requirements for years, the pipeline industry has led the
way and is much further ahead than others in getting these requirements formalized.”
Pipe fabrication mills where coatings are applied are emphasizing quality control now more than ever. Garrity says that before 2009, standard routine
protocols for testing pipe strength and coating chemistries after application involved random profiling. Now, there’s a more structured, statististics-based protocol so samples are tested more often than randomly.
There’s also a push toward more rigorous installation and burying procedures, and a greater emphasis on field inspections.
“Any coatings applied on the circumferential weld in the field must be ensured to be as equally protective as those applied at the mill,” Garrity says.
“More emphasis is now placed on how the pipeline is handled in the field from a quality standpoint — how it’s laid in the trench, the bedding and padding material and how it’s backfilled — to ensure the investment in the coating system isn’t compromised by haphazard construction procedures. We’ve come a long way with NACE’s many standards for different types of
Tator adds there is more awareness about legislative compliance and requirements and there is a continuum of gradual improvement. “Now, the emphasis on quality is doing it right the first time. Trained inspectors and operators, instrumentation and reporting is at a peak now,” he says.
On the coatings side, Tator expects to see new materials coming to the pipeline industry such as hydrophobic coatings that repel water that are already used in other markets such as on fabrics. Although not yet widely used in oil or gas industries, he believes they will be used on valves and other items exposed to the atmosphere and in undersea applications relatively sooner than other technologies that require significantly more development.
Further away are smart coatings, indicating coatings that have the ability to indicate where corrosion is occurring, self-healing coatings that over time reseal themselves after abrasions or scratches, and coatings that are much more resistant to high temperatures and chemicals. Tator believes these technologies will eventually make it to the pipeline market despite being more complex and not as large or ready as automotive, medical or consumer markets.
Garrity says the biggest future opportunity is in line protection inspection tools that better identify threats of early external corrosion like cracks that can weaken a pipe and result in rupture when under pressure. Current tools do a good job of identifying where cracks exist, but not necessarily how large or deep they are. Companies are researching how to better size those cracks to ensure that if something is potentially injurious, it can be acted on very quickly.
Debbie Sniderman is an engineer and CEO of VI Ventures LLC, an engineering consulting company. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.