World Video | Defence | Foreign Affairs | Natural Events | Trade | NZ in World News | NZ National News Video | NZ Regional News | Search

 


New Technology Could End The Debate Over Pipeline Safety

New Technology Could End The Debate Over Pipeline Safety

Who could have ever imagined that North America would surpass Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas liquids? A decade ago, that would have seemed laughable.

Yet that’s exactly what has happened; and it’s not just Saudi Arabia that has been left in North America’s dust -- Russia has, too.

The surge in North American oil and gas production is arguably the most important development in energy over the last decade. That’s the good news. The not so good news is that North America doesn’t have nearly enough oil and gas pipelines to accommodate its 11-million-barrel-a-day output level.

The famously unresolved proposed Keystone XL pipeline would carry oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, but its future is in legal and political limbo. The controversial Northern Gateway pipeline, proposed as an alternative to Keystone XL, would connect Canada’s oil sands to the Pacific Coast, allowing greater volumes of oil to be shipped to Asia, but it, too, is still on the drawing board.

Both are good examples of how pipelines – considered the safest way to move oil and gas – have become politicized and scrutinized, and not without reason. Despite their reliability, pipelines still lead to an unacceptable rate of safety mishaps. They corrode and rupture, which threatens workers and nearby communities. In 2013 alone, over 119,000 barrels of oil were spilled in 623 incidents.

America’s existing pipelines are getting older and more prone to corrosion, and over the next five to 10 years, there will be a significant increase in the number of new pipelines.

And that is creating a huge opportunity for better pipeline safety technology.

Monitoring and detecting corrosion in pipelines is still a crude affair (no pun intended). Pipeline companies tend to underspend on safety, concerned only with meeting the minimum regulatory requirements.

One of the major ways pipeline operators detect corrosion is with a “pig,” a machine that travels down the inside of a pipeline looking for problems.

Pigs are not new -- the industry has long relied heavily on them—and the newest generation of pigs, known as “smart pigs,” is considered an improvement over the pigs of yesterday. Smart pigs give a read on the state of the pipeline, such as cracks, corrosion, and metal loss. Operators receive this information in a control room and can then dispatch crews to fix the problem. As of 2012, 93 percent of pipeline inspections were conducted using smart pigs.

But smart pigs might not be enough. Enbridge (NYSE: ENB), a major Canadian pipeline company, has spent over $4.4 billionto upgrade pipeline safety. It is spending big bucks after one of its pipelines spilled oil into the Kalamazoo River in 2010 – a corrosion breach that Enbridge’s smart pigs failed to detect ahead of time.

And that’s the problem: despite recent advances, smart pigs aren’t terribly accurate. They also require pipeline operations to shut down (you can’t pump oil through a pipeline if there is a machine in the way), and analyzing the data smart pigs gather can take some time. The Wall Street Journal ran an article last year that talked about the pitfalls of smart pigs, even as pipeline companies continue to depend heavily on them.

So alternative methods to detect trouble spots are needed. One method for detecting corrosion uses a device from outside the pipeline. A series of sensors placed on the outside of the pipeline can search for corrosion without interfering in operations.

Pipeline safety company Fox-Tek, a subsidiary of Augusta Industries (CVE: AAO), uses such a system to detect corrosion, as well as a fiber optic system to detect bends, strains and stress in pipelines.

But the real innovation in Fox-Tek’s system is its data analytics package. Companies that use smart pigs usually need to spend months doing post-inspection analysis, but Fox-Tek has developed proprietary software that does continuous and automatic analysis.

Fox-Tek’s sensors gather information and automatically send back confidential reports on everything the company needs to know – temperature, pressure, strain, rates of corrosion, etc. in the form of handy graphs, charts and diagrams. It eliminates the need for an army of people to go out and inspect pipelines and then come back to do the analysis.

The pipeline safety market is massive and growing, but one of the major hurdles for new technologies like advanced sensors and software will be reluctance by pipeline companies to proactively invest in corrosion management and maintenance. In the past, they have largely focused on the bare minimum and viewed safety as a regulatory requirement.

However, there seems to be a sea change in the pipeline industry, particularly since operators are running into an environmental backlash. The blocking of several high-profile pipelines may have finally gotten the attention of the industry. Bringing local communities onboard and acquiring permits from regulators will require pipeline operators to demonstrate improved safety throughout their networks.

But above all, pipeline companies will see dollars saved by using cost-effective monitoring systems to reduce pipeline leaks. Enbridge has been forced to spend around $1 billion to clean up its mess in the Kalamazoo River, which was the result of a corrosion breach. It could spend a fraction of that to have better information on pipeline corrosion to prevent a growing problem from getting worse. That could reduce the frequency of future pipeline spills.

This could be a game changer in terms of how oil and gas pipelines are viewed in North America. If operators use smart software to catch small problems before they can turn into big ones, the common view of pipelines as accidents waiting to happen could be erased. Instead of seeing them as an environmental risk, the public may grow to see them as just another piece of modern infrastructure that facilitates commerce.

ENDS

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
World Headlines

 

Ban Condemns Killing Of Former Lesotho Military Commander

United Nations Secretary-General today condemned the killing of Lt. Gen. Maaparankoe Mahao, former Commander of the Lesotho Defence Force, on 25 June, near Maseru. More>>

Ban Welcomes US Supreme Court Ruling On Same-Sex Marriage

Ban welcomes US Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing right to same-sex marriage Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) pride march. Photo: OHCHR/Joseph Smida More>>

UN Agency Welcomes EU Measures On Refugee Arrivals

Afghan refugees in front of the abandoned hotel Captain Elias on Kos Island, Greece, where hundreds of refugees and migrants are waiting for their registration. Photo: UNHCR/J. Akkash More>>

Increase In Voluntary Blood Donors Can Save Millions Of Lives

Increase in voluntary blood donors can save millions of lives, UN health agency says on World Day More>>

Kenya: Funding Shortage Means Food Cut To 500,000 Refugees

Funding shortage forces UN agency to temporarily cut food aid to 500,000 refugees in Kenya More>>

UN Launches Education Appeal In Fight Against Child Labour

12 June 2015 – The United Nations has announced it is marking the 2015 edition of the World Day Against Child Labour with a call for the international community to invest in quality education as a key step in the fight against child employment ... More>>

Pope Francis & UN Agency On Sustainability Of Agriculture

Pope Francis (centre) with delegates to the 39th FAO Conference during a special audience at the Vatican. Photo: FAO More>>

South Sudan: Call For De-Escalation Of In-Country Conflict

Women and children have suffered devastating attacks in South Sudan’s Unity State. Photo: UNICEF/South Sudan/Sebastian Rich More>>

Burundi: Emergency Support To Refugees Fleeing Burundi Crisis

Burundians fleeing pre-election violence rest on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in the Democratic Republic of Congo after a gruelling 22-hour boat journey. More than 100,000 Burundians have fled over the past month, arriving in Tanzania, Rwanda and ... More>>

Afghanistan: Commitment To Advancing Women's Rights

While the outgoing senior United Nations rights official in Afghanistan said she expected the human rights advances made “will be sustained, will not be rolled back, and will not be sacrificed,” she lamented the high level of violence against ... More>>

Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
World
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news