Inspectioneering Journal

Executive Q&A with Tom Wanzeck, Vice President, Integrity Services, Willbros Group, Inc.

By Tyler Alvarado at Inspectioneering. This article appears in the November/December 2013 issue of Inspectioneering Journal.

Inspectioneering recently had the privilege of speaking with Tom Wanzeck, Vice President of Integrity Services with Willbros Group, Inc. Tom spent more than 20 years managing assets on the owner-operator side before making the leap to the service industry, in which he now manages and facilitates world-class asset and pipeline integrity management programs for clients. We would like to thank Mr. Wanzeck for taking the time to chat with us and we hope you find the conversation as insightful as we did.

It seems like there are as many definitions for pipeline integrity management (PIM) as there are companies providing PIM services. What does pipeline integrity management mean to you?

TW: When thinking about an asset, one should consider its entire lifecycle. Pipelines can be controlled and operated indefinitely if they are maintained properly. It is important to make sure you can diagnose and understand the current condition of the asset and work to make improvements that will enhance the life of the asset. This process begins and ends with data.

Joint work should be performed on the front-end, or as early as possible, to discover every element of the asset’s current condition. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Obtaining an accurate history of the pipeline, from materials of construction, to installation, to maintenance and repairs, etc.;
  • Taking active measurements of the current corrosion protection systems that are in place;
  • Running state of the art in-line inspection (ILI) tools and properly evaluating the data collected;
  • Keeping accurate records of what was done and who performed the work, and starting the cycle over again to analyze your data before you identify the next opportunities for improvement;
  • Remaining conscious that effective integrity management is a continuous improvement process that never ceases.

What is Willbros’ role in improving pipeline safety?

TW: Willbros has been around for more than 100 years. In the early years, we were singularly focused on the pipeline construction industry and became well-known for building some of the most challenging pipelines around the world. Along the way, our business expanded to support not only pipeline construction, but also preliminary engineering, project management, detailed engineering, design, material procurement, right of way acquisitions, surveying, damage prevention and all related work.

Today, Willbros has expanded even further to support pipeline integrity, as the company recognized the importance of leveraging its knowledge and experience in proper pipeline construction to ultimately help maintain those pipelines. First and foremost, our pipeline integrity segment focuses on getting the data right, because we believe it is of the utmost importance to know everything you can about an asset in order to ensure that you can maintain it correctly, especially the areas that have the most risk and exposure. Correct data allows us to put proper risk analysis in place and identify where the highest leverage opportunities are for corrections. We can then develop integrity management plans that cover the life of an asset and work with our clients to further improve the integrity of their assets over time.

How are pipeline regulations evolving to address the modern day challenges associated with pipeline integrity?

TW: Regulators have become increasingly aware of the importance of maintaining assets with a continuous improvement focus. Initially, regulations were born out of incidents that caused them to focus on particular elements of regulation. Now, regulators have developed integrated audit protocols that look at all aspects of operations and reveal gaps in performance, in turn allowing them to visibly identify meaningful improvement in regulations to enhance integrity. They have also done a good job working with operators in the industry to collect data and information on incidents that help to identify other gaps. Over the years, regulations have become more stringent, specifically targeting the areas in which there were gaps in performance. Today, these regulations have empowered operators to better define, on a risk basis, where to attack and improve their assets’ integrity. There are protocols, prescriptive time frames, and requirements to ensure things are done right. But, for the most part, the industry has been allowed to move forward.

However, with some of the latest incidents that have occurred, there is further political pressure for even more regulatory control. Regulations are likely to become more prescriptive as we move forward. There is a concern by operators that regulations will go too far and limit the operator’s ability to effectively target expenditures that result in the highest risk reduction to their operations. Care needs to be taken to ensure there is proper balance in the next wave of regulations. We are also going to see more harmonizing of natural gas and hazardous liquid transmission pipeline regulations. In other words, wherever something exists in the liquids world that does not exist in gas, you might see that move into the gas regulations. In the same way, things that do not exist in liquids regulations could be transferred from the gas side. At this point, gas and liquids have had separate rules with many of the same elements. PHMSA is going to work to drive more consistency across the major pipeline transmission networks.

What have been some of the primary causes of industry incidents in recent years?

TW: Something that continues to be a challenge for the pipeline industry is third party damage. Believe it or not, third party damage remains one of the major contributing causes of pipeline releases. Communities continue to encroach on existing pipelines. One of the ways in which this can be remedied is more frequent detection via aerial patrol. More effective communication between the pipeline industry and the construction industry is essential to preventing these issues. In the United States, there has been solid success linked to one-call programs, which limit the risk and exposure to third party dig-ins by requiring operators to confirm the location of their assets and deliberately follow up on every call within a construction firm’s defined corridors.

The recent San Bruno incident in California is driving much of the current push toward heightened regulation. A specific finding that resonated with me was the lack of full knowledge regarding the assets in the ground. In the San Bruno case, there was not a full awareness and understanding of the material make up. This lack of knowledge was a contributing factor to the incident.

The industry is now working harder than ever to make sure all documentation is traceable, verifiable and complete for every single segment of pipelines. They know and understand the historical records, the material make up and the operating pressure limitations of segments of their pipeline tied to accurate data and documentation. Validating all records has been a challenge because much of the needed historical data was either not properly recorded or was not available. Nevertheless, it is very clear that the industry is trying to be much more proactive about record management and understanding the details of assets in the ground.

What are some of the newest and most impactful technologies helping you manage pipeline integrity?

TW: The evolution of computing power has significantly increased the ability to collect information across operations and then bring it together in a central data and documentation platform. The industry has been working toward this for a long time. The continued advancements in technology are allowing information to come together and be maintained in a much more complete and visible way. Earlier, I mentioned the importance of traceable, verifiable and complete data and documentation. So often, the information collected and maintained is only available to a limited group inside of a company. It is usually held within a small specialty group of people that have Geographic Information Systems (GIS) skill sets. On request, they will make maps, pull specialty reports and distribute that to specific user groups. As a result there is limited “access” to information across operations. Another challenge is the need to ensure that the data in the office accurately represents what exists in the field, so there is only “one version of the truth.” Mobile technology is emerging to allow the field to be connected to the office so that all information can be maintained in “real time.” Technological advancements are allowing companies to unleash the power of their GIS platforms by putting the right data in the hands of everyone who needs it.

We are working on advanced GIS systems that can capture asset updates that occur in the field and integrate field information into established data models. These changes can then be displayed to office and field personnel simultaneously. As consumers, we can get just about everything we need to know to live our lives through our handheld devices, but in the office, we face serious challenges in getting the information we need to do our jobs most effectively. The nature of IT infrastructure and enterprise systems are so complex that it is hard to extract data and information that you need to know when you need to know it. However, leveraging technology used by consumers and other industries is helping to untangle many of these complexities. For example, we are using Google’s consumer technologies to allow the oil and gas industry to have more convenient access to GIS data with simple-to-use tools. Google’s platform is widely used and understood by consumers; now, we can integrate all the pipeline information and data on top of that existing platform, allowing users to simply perform a Google search to locate what they are looking for. What’s more, the recent evolution of Cloud based technology allows for improved integration of the data within and between different user groups.

What are some of your thoughts on specific inspection technologies like in-line inspection or pigging technologies?

TW: So-called “smart pigs” continue to evolve and increase in accuracy. One significant challenge for the pipeline industry has been the identification of Stress Corrosion Cracking (SCC) in the long seam. There have been advances in smart pig technology to allow SCC to be identified. The technology has not been completely perfected, but headway is certainly being made to solve this industry challenge. Another advancement has been in the use of “in ditch” scanning technology to be able to better map and “grade” pipeline anomalies. The scanning devices can completely “map” a section of pipe and provide data to support accurate information to determine repair requirements.

Are you seeing resistance from the operators on these advancing technologies, or have they been pretty quick to adapt?

TW: Adoption of technologies can vary significantly between operators. Some operators are very proactive, looking at every opportunity to improve their systems. Others are more in a wait and see approach until technologies are proven for broad adoption. One of the key challenges is the complexity of their enterprise systems. Often companies have invested heavily in these systems and to unwrap and unwind them can be a barrier to adopting new technology.

It’s like anything; you have different levels of resistance with different companies. Some companies see these technologies as the wave of the future and they will adopt it quickly, while others are comfortable in their ways, and therefore slower to react from the inside. If you think about what I discussed with data and information and documentation being so important, you can see how changing technologies and software can be a terrifying endeavor. Companies need to be confident that their current system and data will not be lost, but rather integrated into a new set of capabilities that have the potential to transform their operations.

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