Pipeline operators join forces to develop new tools

During a May 2017 meeting with North Dakota pipeline operators, Governor Doug Burgum challenged industry to apply advanced technologies to eliminate pipeline leaks in North Dakota. In response to the governor’s challenge, industry chose a proactive path and engaged in a three-and-a-half-year program to advance development and application of emerging technologies that will prevent and detect pipeline leaks. 

The goal of the intelligent Pipeline Integrity Program (iPIPE) (www.ipipepartnership.com) is to develop and demonstrate cutting-edge technology that can prevent and/or detect gathering pipeline leaks. The program assists in the development of multiple emerging technologies to prevent and detect pipeline leaks by:

  • Selecting the most promising emerging (near-commercial) technologies for demonstration;
  • Assisting technology providers in refinement of their products;
  • Demonstrating multiple technologies on working gathering pipelines;
  • Documenting results of technology demonstrations; and,
  • Facilitating adoption of technologies into pipeline operations.

Tone Macia, Oasis Midstream’s construction and engineering manager, touted the program, saying, “We believe that this acknowledgment of innovation paves the way for more collaborative efforts that contribute positively to industry operations and public understanding of our business.”

Two technology selection rounds (in May 2018 and October 2018) have resulted in five technologies selected for development activities:

  • Satelytics – Satelytics is a data and analytical platform that promises to automate broad monitoring of large pipeline systems. Satelytics employs machine-learning algorithms to automatically analyze large amounts of optical, multispectral, and hyperspectral data from satellites, commercial airliner overflights, drone overflights, and fixed sensors to produce alerts on various changes of interest to the pipeline operator. Satelytics provides a variety of analytical tools to the pipeline operator, including temperature analyses, chemical analyses, leak detections, and change detections.
  • Ingu Solutions – PipersTM sensors promise an affordable and easy-to-deploy screening tool that identifies risks and performance issues in pipelines, especially for small-diameter (less than eight-inch) pipelines. According to Ingu Solutions, the technology detects and locates leaks, defects, magnetic features, and restrictions in all pipelines, with no interruption of service.
  • Direct-C – Direct-C’s “smart paint” sensors promise to instantly and directly measure hydrocarbon and saline leaks, then transmit alarms identifying possible locations of the leak. Direct-C is developing a film-embedded nanocomposite sensor that changes its electrical properties in the presence of a leak, thus triggering a leak alarm. They also promise no false alarms because the method of measurement is direct and not subject to interpretation.
  • Insitu (a Boeing Company) — Insitu offered a project employing drones flying beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), multiple advanced sensors, and advanced analytics to identify pipeline leaks over large areas of operation. The promise of drone-based leak detection is alluring because it potentially offers wide area coverage with automated systems not subject to weather limitations.
  • Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) – SwRI offered a project to further develop its Smart Leak Detection (SLED) technology that uses commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) cameras and machine-learning algorithms to instantly identify and categorize hydrocarbon leaks. The promise of this approach is that, if it can be mounted on an aerial platform, it could achieve wide area coverage and instantaneous identification of leaks, even categorizing the types of leaks.

“The coalition of businesses and partners that make up iPIPE was impressed with our latest round of submissions for new technologies and is proud to be pushing forward with these new ideas,” said Brent Lohnes, general manager of Hess in North Dakota. “It’s great to see the level of excitement for this industry-led initiative, and we hope to see even more practical applications that can help us reach our goals.” 

According to the Energy & Environmental Research Center’s Jay Almlie, who manages iPIPE on behalf of industry partners, “iPIPE continues to push the envelope, constantly seeking new technology that shows promise, but needs a bit of guidance to complete development and become commercial.”

The program is currently engaged in operations in the Williston Basin in North Dakota, the D-J Basin in Colorado, the Permian Basin in New Mexico and Texas, and the Alberta Basin in Canada. Early results have resulted in growth of the program and even adoption by certain members of the consortium of the first technologies developed. 

iPIPE members benefit from program activities in the following ways:

  • Members direct the selection of specific technologies that most closely support their organization’s goals regarding pipeline operations.
  • Members get experience in working with promising new technologies at greatly reduced cost because the costs are shared with other members and even with technology providers.
  • Members jointly use the program to demonstrate that industry is leaving no stone unturned in its search for technologies that enable continuous improvement of pipeline operations and pipeline safety—even to the point of developing new technologies where none currently exist.
  • Members demonstrate responsible citizenship to landowners and regulators.

The members of the industry-led consortium currently include Hess Corporation, Equinor, Oasis Midstream Partners, Goodnight Midstream, ONEOK, Andeavor, Whiting Petroleum, and DCP Midstream. Several others are currently in discussions to join this expanding consortium.

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