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Pipeline Pigging Technology

Pipeline Pigging Technology

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Published by: api-3869181 on Dec 01, 2009
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In most circumstances, pipelines are selected for on-line inspection on the
basis of some form of risk assessment. This is usually related to considerations
for personnel safety and security of supply for gas pipelines, and with an
additional consideration for pollution in the case of liquid lines. Although such
assessments are often of a qualitative nature, an increasing number of pipeline


Pipeline Pigging Technology

operators are adopting formalized, quantitative schemes, which can be used
to great effect in ensuring that the most appropriate inspection, repair and
maintenance programmes are employed over the life of a pipeline.
Once the decision has been made to perform an on-line inspection survey
of a pipeline, considerations of technical standard and cost become the focus
of attention. The two factors are closely related, since the inspection phase
of a project cannot be financially divorced from the consequent costs of
remedial work and the subsequent costs of pipeline maintenance. The
inspection service must, therefore, be regarded as an integral part of pipeline
maintenance, with the accuracy and repeatability of the service determining
the final out-turn of maintenance costs.


Before a pipeline is inspected, it is prudent to perform a detailed review
of its engineering records to gain early information about it's suitability for on-
line inspection. This phase is usually complemented by extensive discussions
with the pipeline operator, and an on-site survey of the line by a British Gas
engineer. Once it has been established that the pipeline is suitable for the
running of an inspection tool, the in-field operational phase can begin.

In-field tool running

This phase comprises a series of operations, carried out in a specific order
to ensure the successful running of the inspection tool. The first part entails
the running of cleaning and bore-proving pigs, to provide optimum condi-
tions for inspection; the second part involves the running of the inspection
tool itself.

Extensive preparatory work ensures the timely execution of this part of
the service, together with specialized handling equipment to simplify the
insertion and extraction of pigs. In addition, the detail of inspection tool
design provides a virtual guarantee that the tool will pass through the pipeline
without becoming stuck or damaged.

Validation of survey data

Of particular importance in the field is the post-inspection validation of the
survey data, and this occurs following the withdrawal of the magnetic tape
store from the on-board tape recorder. During the inspection operation, data


Interpretation of pig survey results

will have been processed digitally in real time, securely coded against errors,
and organized in a particular format for acceptance by the on-board tape
recorder. Clearly, early validation of the data, to confirm the successful
operation of the system, is essential. This is a complex task in view of the huge
quantities of data involved, and has demanded major developments in
microcomputer-based test equipment for its completion. Following the
confirmation of a successful survey run, the magnetic tape, containing the
inspection data, is returned to the British Gas Computer Centre in England for
detailed analysis and interpretation.

Interpretation of inspection data

At the On-Line Inspection Centre, the data recorded on tape during the
inspection run is replayed via a process-control type of computer on to
standard computer tapes, which can then be analysed using one of the
Centre's five main computers. These machines reformat and reorganize the
data so that information from the various types of sensor is properly aligned
and correlated with positional data.
The next process is to reject signals from normal, defect-free pipeline
fittings such as welds and bends. Each fitting gives a particular shape of signal
which can be identified, checked and then eliminated. If existing pipeline
maps resulting from previous inspection runs are available, these are also used
to verify and reject data. Significant sensor data is then presented on an
electrostatic plotter, and interpreted by trained operators. This form of
output allows many parallel sensor traces to be plotted and quickly analysed.
Finally, a mathematical sizing model, used in conjunction with a computer
graphics terminal, is employed to obtain a direct estimate of the size and shape
of defects. This system is complemented by a comparative sizing technique
based on an automatic search through a large library of known signals.
Inspection data must be preserved for comparison with subsequent
inspection logs and as a historical record. The scale and frequency of
inspection operations demand that data analysis must be a highly-automated
process. The keys to rapid and reliable data analysis are defect sizing
capability, and the ability to recognize and classify automatically the signals
which characterize particular pipeline fittings. When such a signal is identi-
fied, it is necessary to check that the fitting is not faulty in some way, for
example to check that a weld between sections of pipe has not become
corroded. The integrity of each fitting must be verified, but the obvious
approach of comparing new signals with standard examples works only in a
limited number of cases.


Pipeline Pigging Technology

For instance, a good weld at one point in a pipeline can produce a very
different image from an equally-good weld at a different point on the same
pipeline. More sophisticated techniques have had to be used.
Possible faults are analysed using pattern-recognition and image-process-
ing techniques similar to those employed in medical scanning and satellite
imaging. Such techniques, originally developed for purposes like enhancing
blurred photographs, or teaching computers to recognize particular words,
are equally relevant to the interpretation of pipeline inspection data. Instead
of a blurred photograph, the on-line inspection device provides a record of
magnetic field variations in the pipeline; its sharpness is limited by the
response of sensors and electronics and the errors introduced during data
collection in the harsh conditions inside a pipeline.
British Gas has modified and developed existing techniques to cope with
the problems posed by pipeline inspection. The general approach has been
to measure various parameters to characterize a signal and then to use
statistical techniques to discriminate between significant and spurious data.
Much depends on choosing the appropriate image parameters to measure.
The experience of engineers who design and operate inspection vehicles has
proved invaluable for this purpose.
The data-reduction techniques employed are designed to operate in a
cascade fashion, so that only the simplest operations are applied to the bulk
of the inspection data, more complex steps being reserved for later stages in
the analysis sequence. Using various software tools, the operator may search
for particular types of feature, manipulate images on graphics terminals, and
test new signal-processing algorithms to identify any misclassification errors.
These techniques have been developed at the On-Line Inspection Centre and
by leading consultancy organizations working under contract.
The procedure may be modified when dealing with data from seamless
pipe in which the method of manufacture produces large variations in wall
thickness (often outside specified tolerance limits) over quite small areas of
pipe. In addition, the amount of metal-working associated with the forging
process also produces significant variations in the material's magnetic char-
acteristics. Such wall-thickness and magnetic variations are detected by
magnetic-flux leakage inspection vehicles, and can obscure or distort signals
from potential defects. A special de-blurring process has been developed by
British Gas which enables the "natural" variation in response to be recognized
and eliminated without distorting the signals from metal-loss defects. The end
product is corrected data which looks like that obtained from pipes manufac-
tured from controlled-rolled plate.


Interpretation of pig survey results

Fig.l. Feature report giving feature size and location.


Fig.2. Frequency distribution of metal-loss features.


Pipeline Pigging Technology

Fig.3. Frequency distribution for various depths of corrosion.


Interpretation of pig survey results

Pipeline Pigging Technology


The analysis and interpretation procedures result in a computer file
containing detailed information about pipeline flaws and their geographical
positions in the pipeline. The final step in the process is then to prepare a
report which will provide the pipeline operator with the necessary informa-
tion to take remedial action where required. This report can be formatted in
a wide variety of forms, and must be structured to reflect the overall condition
of the pipeline. In the case of pipelines containing relatively-small numbers
of reportable features, each flaw can be individually described in a written
report, giving the size and location of the feature. An example of this type of
report is shown in Fig.l.
However, where the number of reportable features is large, it becomes
necessary to process the survey data statistically to give the pipeline operator
an initial overview of the pipeline's condition.
The format of the report which provides this initial overview can be
tailored to suit the needs of individual pipeline operators, but experience has
shown that certain formats are of particular'benefit. One example of such a
report is shown in Fig.2, where the number of metal-loss features which
would fail at selected test pressures is shown against distance along the
pipeline. Another example is shown in Fig.3, where the metal loss is
described in terms of its depth and area, and is differentiated into pitting and
general corrosion.

In preparing reports for the pipeline operator, the principal concern is to
ensure that thie data type, and its presentation, are selected to satisfy the needs
of the pipeline engineers who are to perform remedial work. To this end,
British Gas has evolved a highly-flexible reporting structure which undergoes
constant review. Ultimately, however, it is the quality of information which
determines the overall value of the inspection service.


Risk assessment and inspection for integrity


GAS-TRANSMISSION companies are under increasing pressure from sev-
eral directions to develop and manage pipeline integrity programmes in a
responsible and cost-effective manner. The issues of pipeline reliability and
safety of an ageing North American pipeline system are receiving increased
public and regulatory attention. Record gas volumes on NOVA and other
pipeline systems result in operations close to the design capacity for much of
the year, increasing the business emphasis on reliability.
NOVA's operating experience over a period of 32 years has led to the
development and implementation of a comprehensive pipeline integrity
programme that provides a cost-effective contribution to the reliable opera-
tion of the gas-transmission system. This paper describes the methods used
to identify specific pipeline segments for integrity assessment, and the role of
in-line inspection with instrumented pigs, and other monitoring methods, to
ensure safety and reliability of operation by maintaining the structural
integrity of the pipeline system.


The Alberta Gas Transmission system of NOVA, illustrated in Fig.l, has
been developed over a period of 32 years. It transports 13% of the gas
produced annually in Canada and the United States, and virtually all of the gas
exported from the Province of Alberta. The system includes 40 compressor
station sites, and approximately 15,600km (9,700miles) of buried pipeline,
mostly operating in Class 1 locations. The pipelines consist of approximately


Fig.l. Nova's Alberta gas transmission division.

800 segments, each with its unique characteristics of size, terrain, materials,
construction practice, operating history, and current gas flow.
The need for a comprehensive pipeline integrity programme to maintain
the structural integrity of our system arises from recognition of several factors
which are not unique to just our system:

1. Our own experience, like that of other companies, shows that
deterioration of structural integrity does occur in some pipeline
segments of our complex system due to mechanisms such as
external corrosion, slope instability and stress corrosion cracking.
2. We have a clear responsibility to our regulators, our customers and
our shareholders to prevent structural integrity problems from
adversely affecting public safety, the reliable and economic trans-
portation of gas, and the value of our assets.
3. Operating close to design capacity on a year-round basis, as Fig.2
shows we have been recently, requires that pipeline integrity
projects be scheduled with lead times of one to two years to
minimize disruption to operations. We need to do more to anticipate
and prevent problems rather than simply react to them.
4. There are continuing signs, from newspaper coverage [1], US Public
Law 100-561 [2], and NEB of Canada recommendations [3], for exam-
ple, that regulators may impose uneconomic requirements for
periodic inspection or testing unless operators demonstrate that
they are now meeting their responsibilities for maintenance of an
ageing buried pipeline system.

Most important in the discussion of pipeline integrity is our belief that we,
as owners and operators, know more about the structural integrity of our


Pipeline Pigging Technology

Risk assessment and inspection for integrity

Fig.2. Trend to increased load factor.

system, and what is required to maintain it, than any other organization. In the
past we have been thorough about documenting failures, determining their
causes, and implementing measures to improve our design, construction and
operating procedures. We have learned from this activity, over a period of 32
years, what deterioration mechanisms reduce the structural integrity and
where they are likely to cause future problems. The experiences of other
pipeline operators, and our active participation in research and development,
have also provided information relevant to understanding the structural
integrity of our system. Although we believe we know more about this subject
for our system than anyone else, and have developed a sound approach to
pipeline integrity planning and maintenance, we also recognize aspects of
our programme that can be improved, and will continue to refine the

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