Inspectioneering Journal

Standardized Pipeline Risk Comparison and Prediction

By Craig Alan Swift, P.E., Project Manager at Bureau Veritas. This article appears in the March/April 2016 issue of Inspectioneering Journal.


Pipeline transmission is the preferred choice in terms of safety, reliability, and cost effectiveness for transporting large volumes of fluid intra-continentally. Still, infrequent and occasionally traumatic pipeline failures can cause public concern and spur regulatory responses, typically scaled according to the impact of the event (e.g. Accountable Pipeline Safety and Partnership Act of 1996, PIPES Act of 2006). To address this, modern pipeline systems are designed and operated with the intent of being intrinsically safe and indefinitely maintainable. This is a demanding objective with many challenges, including 3rd party and environmental threats, Operations & Maintenance (O&M) incidents, design flaws, manufacturing and installation flaws, product contamination, etc.

Tools and technology to encompass and manage this objective continue to be developed and successfully applied in the industry. Today, they are being applied not only to new pipeline systems, but to systems that were designed and installed in the early 1900s. Proper application of these technologies and research-based tools enable the quantification and minimization of operating risks associated with pipeline facilities. Geospatial Information System (GIS) platforms have been employed by the transmission pipeline industry as a means to both (1) collect, contain, and locate permanent pipeline records, and (2) serve as a basis for development and deployment of Integrity Management Programs (IMPs).

The objective of this article is to demonstrate the inherent value of an interactive and detailed GIS landscape, emphasize the importance of industry standardization, and encourage regulatory agencies and operators to systematize and incorporate these technologies to produce a standardized basis of observation for these independently operated systems. The illustrations discussed herein are provided using a Standardized Pipeline Observation Tool (SPOT) to display and compare the basic elements of pipeline risk management, which are:

§1.  Fundamental pipeline information and location with identified boundaries,

§2.  Standardized risk parameters recognized throughout the industry, and

§3.  Potential threats to and from the pipeline systems that are in place.

There are existing GIS tools and IMPs which have provided these risk management benefits to owner/operators since their implementation. However, it will be demonstrated that the utilization of a standardized comparative-type tool can be extended to the governance of (product, process, utility, and chemical) transmission pipelines in order to provide an unbiased comparison (or even ranking) of similar pipelines.

Figure 1 illustrates natural gas and hazardous liquid mainlines in the United States. This information is made available to government, operators, and the public by the National Pipeline Mapping System (NPMS)[1].

Figure 1. National Pipeline Mapping System[1].
Figure 1. National Pipeline Mapping System[1].

Federally mandated Pipeline Integrity Management Systems [PIMS] are also integral to the natural gas transportation industry. These PIMS are often individually customized to meet the needs, concerns, and facilities of each specific operator so that the operators can uniquely specialize their IMP. However, this specialization also makes comparison to other pipeline systems more challenging because of the disparate nature of the analyses and reporting. SPOT compiles this various data into one, overall, standardized package for use by pipeline operators and Governance.

Application of this technology allows access to publicly available spatial data, common design data, operating history, identified correlations, and conservative estimates in order to generate comparable projections of multiple individual pipeline sets. These comparisons can be used to anticipate pipeline incidents and their potential interactions with the environment and society as well as with each other. Furthermore, historical GIS records are continuously available to illustrate pipeline interaction with historical dates and societal changes. A platform of this sort also permits a boundless set of predictive future scenarios for each pipeline where potential results can be grouped and compared to one another on both an absolute and a relative scale.

This article will draw on examples from high pressure natural gas transmission systems; however, readers should understand that this technology can be extended to gathering and distribution across any given set of product or process pipelines.

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