January 2023, Vol. 250, No. 1


Recognizing Value of Data as Pipeline Integrity Assets

By Louise O’Sullivan, Director of Digital Solutions, Penspen 

(P&GJ) — Increased investment in infrastructure as a result of higher oil and gas prices, as well as growing activity in planning for future energy provision, means that many operators and utilities around the world are seeking ways to help them improve operational efficiency and access to safe and sustainable energy for the communities that they serve.

The integrity of pipelines will play a critical role in this development. A greater focus on improving pipeline integrity management processes and procedures will be vital in ensuring energy supply effectively reaches customers and satisfies consumer consumption. 

The global pipeline integrity management market is projected to accelerate from $8.80 billion in 2021 to $11.26 billion in 20281. In 2020, repair and refurbishment made up almost 60% of global pipeline integrity activities. 

While current energy demand is high, the oil and gas industry faces significant longer-term uncertainty.  

Aging pipelines mean greater risks, which are in turn set against a background of cost reductions and increased regulatory demands. Loss of skills and a lack of new talent add to the strain on existing resources. The four challenges of more regulation, reduction in resources, aging assets and questions over long-term financial outlook represent a quadrilemma for oil and gas operators. 

Digitalization can unlock new ways of thinking to address these constraints, reduce uncertainty and help minimize unforeseen failures. The development of flexible, intelligent solutions, including the improved coordination and interpretation of data, can provide operators with better insights, faster. 

Individual players can achieve cost and efficiency advantages by streamlining multiple data acquisition systems to create a convergence of information and much faster data interpretation. 

However, the establishment of an industry-wide common set of standards for data acquisition, processing and interpretation would generate greater consistency, clarity and significant operational benefits for all. 

In the oil and gas industry, resources are decreasing, while failures and regulations are on the rise. Pipeline integrity management must become more adaptable to meet evolving demands. Services company Penspen has identified four key challenges that represent a quadrilemma. 

More Regulation 

Around the world, governmental focus on safety and environmental compliance is placing an onus on pipeline operators to abide by the regulations or face losing their license. While it is right and accepted that the industry should be properly regulated, compliance costs are high and regulations are increasing. 

In the U.S., the regulatory framework for the siting and construction of pipelines, and the services they provide, is complex and divided between federal and state rules. Greater environmental requirements brought in at the beginning of 2022 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission make new pipeline approvals significantly more difficult to attain2.  

Supporting operators by providing the information they need to fulfill regulatory requirements is critical. 

The workforce is getting older and the industry faces a considerable challenge in attracting younger talent. Experienced staff unable to pass on their skills to younger, recently qualified engineers, who are choosing careers in other sectors, is creating a knowledge gap. 

Aging Assets 

Pipelines are in operation today that were installed a hundred years ago. Typically, in the U.S. 55% of pipelines are more than 40 years old. Many pipelines are still in service for decades longer than originally intended, with the maintenance issues and costs such extended longevity implies. Extending the life of assets so they continue to be safe and reliable, without incurring unnecessary downtime, depends on having a strategy for remaining life based on associated risk assessment. 

Over their lifetime, assets can be passed from owner to owner. Important information may not be shared or become lost. New owners faced with a lack of information about an asset can face considerable challenges. In these situations, even more data information and interpretation are required.  

Commodity price fluctuations put pressure on operators to reduce costs across all business streams.  

For pipeline operators, the integrity department is often one of the most keenly budgeted business areas. When it comes to data acquisition and interpretation, contract flexibility is important for integrity departments. In situations where the requirement for integrity software may only be for two or three months a year, a long term and expensive software license spanning several years can be a costly overhead. 

A cloud-based system with software as a service (SaaS) functionality along with an adaptable licensing solution can offer integrity departments important flexibility and cost efficiencies.  

Developing Data  

Many years ago, engineers used a T-card, paper-based, system to manage time and materials. From the mid-1980s onward, spreadsheets became the industry norm. The more recent evolution from electronic systems to digitalization enables faster, more detailed data analysis.  

However, a reliance on spreadsheet interpretation remains in some integrity departments.  

The current surge in volumes of data threatens to exceed the practical limits of spreadsheets. Access to the automated analysis of live data is becoming increasingly commonplace. Intelligent tools, such as remote sensors, provide a continuous feed of real-time data, which could easily be expected to total many gigabytes a day.  

Established and siloed practices in risk assessment, asset integrity and asset management are changing. Under conventional ways of working, operators can take months negotiating a framework agreement, sending data for analysis and, after the subsequent number crunching, reporting and sign-off, are expected to make decisions based on what has become old information.  

By contrast, a modern data acquisition, interpretation and reporting system can provide operators with up-to-date analysis of the state of their pipelines within minutes. 

There is no shortage of data for pipeline integrity management. The challenge is how best to use it to empower better cost and risk-reducing decisions. Integrity engineers need to be able to understand the vast array of incoming information and streamline its delivery to gain a rapid and holistic view of an asset.  

Various proprietary data gathering and mapping solutions exist, but analytics tools are often linked to this individual software, which can limit the integrity engineer’s ability to quickly see the full picture. 

Better Decision-Making 

However, there are new industry solutions to this challenge. The latest advances in digital pipeline integrity management systems, which can obtain and interpret data rapidly, are providing operators with the ability to manage the integrity of their assets with greater confidence. 

The development of modern data agnostic systems that can quickly bring together and compare inspection data from a range of vendors simultaneously are providing engineers with a holistic view of the project in quick time. Increased automation, from upload to report generation, can enable the whole process to be measured in seconds rather than days or weeks.  

Systems that can ingest and manage all available data and integrate with existing ERP (enterprise resource planning) solutions can provide engineers with important insights, enabling make better decisions to optimize asset performance.  

Advanced digital pipeline integrity management systems are already demonstrating the value of data deployment and interpretation over conventional processes. Below are two examples where digital systems have provided benefits to operators. 

Assessing the Andes  

A system comprising 687 miles (1,106 km) of main pipeline with multiple branches transports crude oil from the Amazonas jungle over the Andes Mountains to the north coast of Peru. 

The pipeline is a critical national asset. It is more than 45 years old and has reported several spills in recent years. 

To maintain acceptable risk levels and ensure integrity and reliability, Penspen was commissioned to update the pipeline’s risk study assessment. The revised assessment will support the regulatory agency with future supervision projects. 

THEIA enabled Penspen to manage and assess reports documenting 1,000,000 features on the pipeline. Previous in line inspections (ILIs) and reports were tracked. Corrosion growth rate (CGR) estimates were provided using modules for welding correlation, matching features, and CGR. Safe working pressures were calculated using Mod ASME B31G and Kastner modules, and estimated remnant life was determined based on the CGR outputs. 

The system processed all the information records efficiently and easily. The ILI data supported the analysis of the pipeline’s condition. Mapping visualizations supported maintenance decisions. The customer was able to store information in one centralized document repository, providing easy access to relevant data for future integrity management.  

Jet Fuel Pipeline  

A pipeline maintained by Penspen takes aviation fuel from a refinery to Manchester International Airport. A series of ILIs has been completed for the pipeline. However, manual feature matching between the large ILI data sets to obtain a CGR is time-consuming. 

THEIA’s feature matching and CGR module was identified as an alternative approach. All ILI data sets from a range of vendors were uploaded into the system’s data lake alongside other essential information including pipeline properties, construction data, ILI dates and tool tolerances.  

Combinations of multiple data sets were selected and run as feature matching and CGR analyses. A single analysis took a maximum of several minutes to complete. Manual feature matching and CGR calculations would have taken days of engineering time. 

Feature-matching statistics and a range of CGRs including the mean and 95 percentile upper bound CGRs were obtained. A credible CGR was selected to calculate the remaining life of the pipeline and the next ILI date.  

A validation exercise for one of the system’s results versus manual feature matching and CGR was undertaken. THEIA’s feature matching and CGR module matched 572 external corrosion features between UT ILI and MFL ILI data sets. Additionally, 532 external corrosion features were manually matched for the two data sets, taking many hours. CGRs then had to be calculated for the manually matched features using Penspen’s software. 

A comparison of the external CGRs results from the system vs. those from manual feature matching was extremely close – within 0.1 mm/year of each other.  

Common Approach 

Having a system that cross-references and codifies swathes of information and industry standards while rapidly driving through data to deliver greater and faster project clarity has obvious advantages for asset integrity, risk assessment and asset management. It can significantly speed up timelines with the resulting financial benefits. It also frees integrity engineers to focus on important data analysis rather than number crunching.  

Penspen noted that by using the system, productivity in integrity departments could increase by up to 50%. Making the acquisition of multiple data sets easier can also support better decision-making.  

Developments in data interpretation can deliver tangible advantages for individual operators. However, it is hoped that it may also leverage the opportunity for a more coordinated and collaborative approach to data use across the industry. 

An important first step would be for the industry to rethink its relationship with data so that it is regarded not as a challenge but as an asset or a value point that must be invested in and managed, just like other assets such as platforms or infrastructure, to generate optimal returns. 

A second significant development would be for operators to agree a set of standards for managing data in an agnostic environment, in a similar way to how integrity standards are clearly defined in the Pipeline Defects Assessment Manual and accepted by operators across the board.  

It is important for the industry to appreciate more fully the worth of the data available to it and to establish long-term solutions for improving its utilization. Significant progress has been made from the days of relying on t-cards for pipeline integrity management. However, there is still much to do in the recognition of data as a highly valuable asset. 


1) https://www.fortunebusinessinsights.com/industry-reports/pipeline-integrity-management-market-100961  

2) https://www.ft.com/content/52a35fe6-83f0-41d3-9fad-fb981e6b7958 

Author: Louise O’Sullivan is the managing director of Digital Solutions at global energy consultancy company Penspen. Focusing on developing digital platforms and solutions that transform efficiencies within business workflows, she leads the business digital pipeline integrity solution – THEIA. She specializes in taking disruptive concepts from ideas on paper to reality and developing successful strategies for going to market. 

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