The increasing complexity of mandatory pipeline integrity programs, together with increased governmental rules and regulations, has led many pipeline operators to outsource inspection and integrity services to independent service providers that have a proven track record of performance. Independent inspectors assist the pipeline operators with performing multiple tasks associated with documentation and project oversight of their asset integrity programs and related construction, inspection, maintenance and repair activities. Independent inspectors generally operate as an extension of the pipeline operators’ management and employees where additional experienced personnel are needed to perform pipeline inspection and integrity services.
Every mile of pipeline is susceptible to risks such as internal and external corrosion, cracking, third-party damage and manufacturing flaws. To mitigate the risk of environmental damage and enhance public safety, government regulation mandates that pipeline operators assess the safety and integrity of their pipeline infrastructure on a recurring basis. PHMSA guidelines identify the minimum standards for evaluating the integrity and safety of pipeline assets and facilities by requiring certain periodic inspections.
The potential fines for non-compliance at both federal and state levels and the excessive unplanned costs associated with spill remediation, all of which can negatively impact a pipeline’s performance, pipeline operators are compelled to develop and implement comprehensive integrity management programs. An integrity management program is a set of safety management, analytical, operations, and maintenance processes that are implemented to assure that operators provide protection for locations where a pipeline failure could have significant adverse consequences. An integrity management plan should also specifically address ‘‘high consequence areas,’’ or HCAs. HCAs include those areas that are unusually sensitive to environmental damage, that cross a navigable waterway or that have high population density.
The elements of an integrity management program include:
Pipeline inspection primarily applies non-destructive examination, or NDE, methods to ensure asset integrity. NDE is the examination of pipeline assets without impacting the future usefulness of the assets. The examination method also allows for minimum operational interruption of the assets undergoing inspection.
A common device used in the NDE of pipeline infrastructure is a pipeline inspection gadget, or pig. A pig is a cylindrical device that is introduced into the pipeline and is transported through the pipe typically without interrupting operations. Pigs perform a variety of functions inside the pipe, including debris and condensate cleaning, plugging, product separation, hydro testing, dewatering and inspection. Inspecting pigs, referred to as in-line inspection pigs, or smart pigs, contain testing devices and collect information while traveling through the pipeline.
Pig inspection can take days to weeks depending on the length and condition of the pipeline being inspected. While the pig is traveling through the pipeline, inspectors must track the location of the pig and catalog data from the pig. The results of pig testing are used by the pipeline operator to determine anomalies and sections of the pipeline targeted to undergo further examination