Corrpro, Integrity Industry Grow Together
By Bradley Kramer
In the beginning, there was a core philosophy and several offices around the United States. One house in Houston, another in Medina, Ohio, and others in Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco. With a loan from National City Bank in Cleveland, David Kroon and the other founders of Corrpro Companies Inc. started the business in 1984, focusing on corrosion prevention.
This core technology began with cathodic protection and has grown into a full suite of corrosion prevention and integrity management solutions aimed at various types of infrastructure. While two-thirds of the Houston-based company’s business relates to the oil and gas industry, the other third services water and wastewater pipelines and facilities, transportation infrastructure, marine structures and contract work for the U.S. Department of Defense.
“Our business is corrosion prevention,” Kroon says, but the company president adds that business related to pipeline integrity continues to grow. Ever since Congress passed the Pipeline Safety Act of 1968, the industry has evolved its integrity practices to meet safety, environmental and regulatory standards.
“It used to be that I spent most of my time talking to customers about corrosion, how it happened, how to control it and how the proper application of corrosion control technology ensures safe operations, environmental protection and extended structure life,” Kroon says. “We have come a long way. Not too many years ago corrosion control was the last thing people considered, but now it is addressed in the early stages of project planning.”
Focusing on pipeline integrity in the early stages of pipeline development is an investment that pays off, says Greta Senn, vice president of energy and mining for Aegion, the parent company of Corrpro. The cost of maintenance over time is less if companies maintain the system from the outset. The result is a reduction in operational costs over the life of the asset. With concerns related to aging infrastructure in the oil and gas industry, Senn sees new investments in pipelines and facilities that focus on integrity first.
“There was a long period of time where there was not a lot invested in infrastructure,” she says of the oil and gas industry. “We’re seeing an increase in the number of installations today, and we see that increasing over the next three to five years. Companies are very mindful of building in cathodic and corrosion protection on the front end of a pipeline design. Companies are also more mindful today of environmental concerns and making sure infrastructure doesn’t affect the environment negatively.”
Modest Start, Steady Growth
While Corrpro began as a small company based in a few home offices around the United States, the company has expanded at a steady pace. The company did $4 million in business its first year and nine years later, in 1993, went public. Corrpro then began acquiring a number of companies in what Kroon calls “a fragmented industry.”
“We acquired 19 businesses in five years,” he says.
However, in 2002, Corrpro experienced a hiccup in its growth with some financial problems in Australia, which led to Wingate, a private equity firm in Dallas, buying into the company. Then, in 2009, Insituform purchased Corrpro. (Insituform was renamed Aegion in 2011.) Now, the company is back on track.
“Last year was a record year for us,” Kroon says. “We now employ more than 1,000 people, half of whom are technically oriented. Corrpro is largely North America-based, with about 80 percent of our business here, but we also do business on all continents.”
Experts in the Field
Among Corrpro’s 1,000 employees working around the world, Senn says many are Professional Engineers and 219 are NACE International-certified corrosion professionals. These specialists offer pipeline operators a high level of know-how to remedy integrity problems in existing systems, as well as help prevent problems in newly built infrastructure.
“They’ve been trained in the best ways to physically do inspections, which they can then take back to the pipeline owners, report on the health of their pipelines and make recommendations on improvement,” says Senn, who joined Corrpro in May 2012. “Our technicians also have the capability that, once they have all of the upfront inspection assessment work and once they collect all their data from the field, they can offer construction support that will enable a pipeline owner to mitigate corrosion on the backend. We’re truly a full-service provider.”
The task of maintaining pipeline integrity, Kroon says, begins when a company starts thinking about building a pipeline.
“It really needs to be part of an entire program that starts with how to build a pipeline so that it’s economically and effectively maintainable,” he says. “If you build a pipeline that will operate at an elevated temperature, the requirements for coatings and cathodic protection are different than those that operate at ambient temperatures. Integrity management starts at the conceptual stage, and continues throughout the life of the pipeline.”
Tools of the Trade
Corrpro’s leaders are seeing an increase in pipeline installations and new facilities construction, Senn says, which is increasing Corrpro’s business, especially related to designing corrosion prevention systems, cathodic protection and AC mitigation measures on the front end of a project.
“The overall climate in the pipeline industry, more so than anything, is companies want to make sure that their systems are well maintained and efficiently monitored throughout the life cycle of the asset,” she says.
Corrpro offers the full suite of products for the industry, including cathodic protection, corrosion prevention, inspection and assessment, as well as electrical current interference. “We can design the cathodic protection system, procure all the necessary parts and install it,” Senn says.
Cathodic protection, which is an electrical means of supplementing the shield of a coating, is the core of Corrpro’s integrity management process, Kroon says. Cathodic protection is a proven technology that applies to all buried and submerged metallic structures, including those embedded in concrete.
“If you think of a coating as an imperfect barrier, cathodic protection supplements this protection by reducing corrosion on the exposed metal with small amounts of DC current,” he says. “It goes back hundreds of years. It was first used on ships, and it’s used in your home in the water heater. These same scientific and engineering principles are applicable to oil and gas pipelines.”
In addition to cathodic protection systems, Corrpro also designs and installs systems that protect pipelines from electrical interference currents that could affect the integrity of an asset, Kroon says. Electrical interference often stems from other nearby cathodic protection systems, high voltage overhead transmission lines, DC transit systems and naturally occurring geomagnetic currents in the soil.
“We detect those problems and design systems to protect pipelines,” he says. “AC interference is a growing problem because of oil and gas pipelines being collocated on overhead AC transmission line rights- of way. Pipeline companies often want to build on existing AC rights of way, and recently the opposite has been true, with AC transmission lines being built on existing oil and gas pipeline rights of way.”
Corrpro models proposed systems to define the extent of AC interference and then designs mitigation systems to protect both the pipeline and people that might come in contact with the pipeline.
Developing these robust pipeline integrity programs begins early for Corrpro’s engineers.
“We’re really involved with a pipeline project from the beginning, from site survey through construction,” Kroon says. “It’s very important to have a system in place for monitoring pipeline protection systems and maintaining them into the future.”
The definition of pipeline integrity varies throughout the industry, depending on individual perspectives, Kroon says. In fact, the notion is all-encompassing.
“It’s an interesting concept, and depending on who you talk to, they’ll define it slightly differently,” he says. “It’s really everything from properly designing the pipeline, to inspection during construction, to doing regular inspections for making sure protective coating and cathodic protection systems are functioning properly, to detecting areas requiring adjustment to the protection systems, to pipeline rehabilitation. . A successful program consists of evaluating the condition of the coating, maintaining the integrity of cathodic protection, making sure to adjust for soil conditions, controlling interference currents and conducting inspections to make sure the pipeline is safe to operate. Companies now have well established programs.”
Soil conditions have a dramatic effect on a pipeline integrity program and dictate more site specific considerations for how to mitigate potential problems, Kroon adds. While current integrity programs tend to be generally applied across a pipeline system, he believes the future will bring more significant soil surveys prior to construction to determine geological conditions and to adjust corrosion prevention programs accordingly.
Direct assessment practices for evaluating pipeline integrity identify locations of high risk for metal loss on a pipeline. Once high risk locations are identified, the pipeline is dug up for direct examination. , Kroon says. Corrpro helps pipeline operators by identifying the high risk locations and inspecting the pipeline coating, taking measurements, evaluating cathodic protection, inspecting the metal surface and otherwise helping with the physical examination of the pipe. In the process, the company determines the extent and nature of any detected corrosion and provides an overall assessment of pipeline condition.
While Corrpro offers solutions for pipeline rehabilitation and adjusting cathodic protection currents in the field, Kroon says the company’s strong-suit is providing regular pipeline inspections to determine areas where cathodic protection is not operating correctly, where coatings are deficient, where electrical interference is a problem and generally assessing the condition of the corrosion protection systems.
The increase in oil and gas production from shale plays and ongoing development of infrastructure to carry products from the Canadian oil sands has had a positive effect on Corrpro’s business, Kroon says. But as more pipelines are being built, the need arises for more and more people to construct and maintain these systems.
“In western Canada, we and all service companies are coming up short of man power,” he says. “There is a real shortage of people to perform pipeline related activities.”
Kroon sees an increased need to recruit and train engineers and technicians for the future of assuring pipeline integrity. Maintaining pipeline integrity is “a matter of diligently applying the inspection and maintenance techniques we have today,” he says, “adding to that the development of new technologies and integrity tools while attracting, training and retaining qualified personnel in the industry.”
“In the future, the industry will begin to develop the technologies to examine the things we don’t currently do well,” Kroon says. “The challenge is how can we better detect corrosion? By focusing on research and development, the industry will create new processes and procedures. Akin to that, though, is the need to train more professionals and technical staff. We need more people who understand pipeline corrosion and integrity. While we recognize the issue in United States and Canada with the shortage of technical hands, it’s an issue internationally as well. We have a global shortage of experienced, well qualified people.”
Despite the concern of labor shortages in the industry, Kroon sees good fortune ahead. The elevation of pipeline integrity concerns in the United States and Canada provides sure footing for Corrpro’s business for future years.
“We’re in the fortunate position where our markets are growing,” Kroon says. “A lot of companies can’t say that, but we’re fortunate we can.”
Bradley Kramer is managing editor of North American Oil & Gas Pipelines. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.