Exploring best practices for ensuring gas pipeline integrity

Comprehensive programs to protect pipelines are important to operators, governments and the public

Oil and Gas exploration continue all over the world and as more hydrocarbon sources are found the demand for pipelines to transport oil and gas increase. However, pipeline operators are under severe financial and social pressure to avoid incidents that cause crude oil and natural gas leaks. With regulators scrutinizing pipeline projects, the reputation of the entire industry is at risk. This is why pipeline integrity must become the focus of discussion. 

“Pipeline integrity” refers to a comprehensive program that works to ensure hazardous resources are not released from a pipeline while minimizing the impact in the event a release does occur. Although some may think prevention methods have a one-size-fits-all solution, pipeline integrity encompasses a much broader definition and is comprised of three phases:

  • Prevention activities and solutions seek to avoid gas leaks from happening in the first place through proper design, construction, operation, maintenance, training, and education.
  • Detection activities and solutions help pipeline operators quickly identify that a leak has happened.
  • Mitigation activities and solutions minimize the extent or impact of the leak and the damage that results. 

With leak prevention being of the utmost importance, the three phase process is understandable. As with most catastrophes, the best defense is a proactive offense. The good news is that the technology and tools needed to anticipate potential threats to pipelines and identify anomalies are available today. The age-old expression, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” holds true for pipeline integrity: the costs that come with preventing a leak are much less than the costs of cleanup, fines, and other civil liabilities – not to mention the cost of a company’s reputation. 

The process and planning that goes into the prevention of gas leaks is a multi-tiered strategy that can be split into three categories:

  • Design and construction
  • Operation and maintenance
  • Training and education 

Pipeline integrity begins with design, and construction 

No two pipeline routes are the same, which is why gas leak prevention starts with specifying the technical requirements for each one. Advances in construction practices, such as more sophisticated testing prior to the pipeline’s fruition, and increasingly protective technology further safeguard pipelines vulnerability. 
While it may seem like common sense to avoid areas that are susceptible to natural disasters and other geo-hazards, history has proven that one small mistake or lack of consideration of this detail plays a large hand in events that can lead to pipeline explosions. Critical to pipeline integrity, the geography of the terrain surrounding the pipeline must be evaluated, whether it be by topographical and geological maps, satellite imagery, aerial photography, and surveys available in the public domain, all are suitable methods. In addition to natural disasters like landslides and earthquakes, soft soils like swamps and bogs as well as underground cavities like coal mines and caves should also be of concern. 

In addition to thorough terrain assessment, implementing equipment that is correctly sized is crucial. The pump or compressor must be sized correctly – a steady state pipeline simulation tool can validate the specified size of the pump or compressor through a computational model of the pipeline’s operating conditions. This simulation can also ensure that it is hydraulically feasible for the pipeline as designed to cross the terrain. 

Lastly, but certainly not least, surge suppression equipment must also be sized correctly. A transient pipeline simulation tool can model the pipeline hydraulics to determine the design criteria for the surge suppression equipment. Surge effects like water hammer can severely damage a pipeline, thus causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in repair. 

Operation and maintenance is imperative to pipeline integrity

Beyond the construction of the equipment, a major component of pipeline integrity is implementing a proper operations and maintenance schedule. When a pipeline is in service, continuously monitoring the operational and structural conditions within the pipeline can identify circumstances that, if not mitigated, could lead to major problems. Inspection and monitoring technologies provide pipeline operators with the information and resources they need to accurately assess the functionality of their pipeline and perform proactive maintenance on “at risk” areas. Some of the more important aspects to monitor and inspect include:

  • Monitor operating pressure
  • Inspect the integrity of the pipeline externally
  • Inspect the integrity of the pipeline internally
  • Monitor depth of cover
  • Properly calibrate monitoring devices

Monitor ground temperature and excavation activity

Operating a pipeline is like flying a plane – training should be required. Just like a pilot is in control of a flight, pipeline controllers are in charge of operating very expensive pipeline assets and should be required to have training or even certification. Teaching operators what to look for in a gas leak is an important step in prevention. In addition to operators, education among residents living along the pipeline can also help avoid problems. Operators and civilians alike can benefit from the various tools that are becoming increasingly available. Computer-based simulators can help improve operational safety and meet regulatory requirements. Enabling the most realistic training experience is essential in making sure the pipeline controller is exposed to both normal operating conditions and abnormal operating conditions. 

Detection is also part of Pipeline Integrity

As mentioned earlier in this article, the activities and solutions associated with the detection of commodity releases is also an important part of Pipeline Integrity. There are potentially many ways of detecting a pipeline leak, however in general these detection methodologies can broadly be divided in two approaches: External and Internal.

External-based gas pipeline leak detection has been a method since pipelines were first used to transport fluids of all types. It involves surveying the external surroundings of the pipeline to detect any releases on the outside of the wall of the pipeline. External-based systems continue to rise in popularity due to their ability to detect even the smallest of leaks and locate gas leaks with a high degree of accuracy.

Internal-based gas pipeline leak detection systems look at conditions inside the pipeline to discover gas leaks, typically based on measurement readings at specific locations along the pipeline. More commonly known as Computational Pipeline Monitoring (CPM), this methodology has been around for only about 30 years and uses software that takes a variety of measurements available on the pipeline to establish what is happening within the pipeline. 

Each pipeline is unique and requires a different combination of methodologies. It’s important to remember that no two pipelines are the same and that the specific detection methodologies used for one pipeline may not be useful for another. For example, a pipeline company operating pipelines in remote areas could rely solely on internal based systems, while a pipeline company operating pipelines in what is classified as High Consequence Areas (HCA) could have both external and internal-based systems installed for the same pipeline. All detection methodologies, whether external or internal, has pros and cons, and it is important to take into account a lot of factors prior to selecting the detection methodology, including length, elevation, HCA, environment, cost etc. 

Taking on the gas Pipeline Integrity challenge

From a business standpoint, gas leaks can be incredibly costly. For example, the company could be out tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost product if there is a moderate or even a minor leak. It may have little environmental impact, but it will be costly if it goes undetected for a few days.

While gas Pipeline Integrity can seem daunting, it is not something to be feared if proper steps of precaution are taken. Implementing a tiered methodology for Pipeline Integrity significantly improves a business’ chances of firstly preventing leaks from appearing in the first place, and secondly improves the probability of detecting leaks, while giving additional benefits in other types of gas applications, this paired with a high level of maintenance provides companies with peace of mind. 

The main goal of pipeline prevention, detection and mitigation activities and solutions is to avoid detrimental leaks down the road for pipeline operators. By putting effort into the three tiers of pipeline integrity, operators will continue to reap the benefits of gas pipeline prevention, detection and mitigation technology in the future.

Lars Larsson is Senior Product/Offer Manager with Schneider Electric

Company Info

Latest News

Drilling & Production
Industry News

RMP Energy announces Elmworth battery start-up

RMP Energy Inc. has announced the recent successful commissioning and start-up of its 100% owned and operated Elmworth 2-23 oil battery and gas handling facility in the Elmworth (Gold Creek) field of West Central Alberta. The 2-23 Facility is presently handling the initial crude oil and natural gas production from two (2.0 net) of RMP's Middle Montney drilled wells (3-22-68-3W6M and 4-18-68-2W6M). Early-stage well production results are encouraging and the Company anticipates providing detailed production data once the wells produce for at least thirty calendar days. The start-up of the 2-23 Facility marks an important corporate milestone for RMP as it enables the Company to begin realizing commercial benefit and return of its capital investment from its new core area, which encompasses 82.5 net sections (52,800 net acres) of acreage prospective in the Middle Montney reservoir. The 2-23 Facility, which can be expanded as required, has initial design capacity to handle 1,500 bbls/d of crude oil, 8.2 MMcf/d of natural gas and 7,500 bbls/d of emulsion.   

Read More

Sponsored Content


The Volvo EC350E and EC380E were put up against two industry leaders to see how each would perform in terms of productivity and fuel efficiency. The four comparable machines were equipped with fuel meters and put through the same test, loading trucks at maximum power. The results were used to calculate estimated time and cost to move 551,156 U.S. tons (500,000 metric tons) of material. Calculations are based on 50-minute work hours, 8 hours per day.

The Result: Volvo delivered a 20% lower cost per ton and moved 15% more material per hour. Get tips about how to get the most from your excavator at volvoce.com/exfactor. 

Learn More

Instrumentation, Systems & Automation

Advanced LVDT signal conditioner

H.G. Schaevitz LLC dba Alliance Sensors Group introduces the S1A AC-LVDT Signal Conditioner that offers smart and fast LVDT setup with built-in null indication and simple front panel pushbuttons to set zero and full scale. Engineered to work with the widest range of AC-LVDTs, RVDTs and inductive half-bridge sensors including 3-wire GE LVRTs and GE gas turbine LVDTs with the buck-boost, the S1A DIN rail module supports LVDT operation and indicates most common failures. 

Read More

Software & IT

IoT driving digital transformation, research report shows

IoT has become the leading technology for digital transformation and is the number one priority for 92 percent of organizations, according to global research findings published by Inmarsat. The Inmarsat Research Programme study, focusing on the enterprise application of the Internet of Things (IoT), revealed that machine learning (38 percent), robotics (35 percent), and 3D printing (31 percent) were also key requirements for effectively delivering digital transformation for business.  

Read More

Software & IT

Cloud-based solution makes SCADA secure and scalable service

Honeywell Process Solutions (HPS) announced the launch of Experion Elevate, a real-time process supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) solution delivered as a secure and scalable service. Experion Elevate allows for predictable costs, easy upgrades, and continual support. It is a member of Honeywell's suite of cloud-enabled solutions for operations technology and information technology (OT/IT). HPS made the announcement at its annual Honeywell Users Group symposium.

Read More

Industry News
Power Systems

Kubota Engine increasing footprint in Latin America

Kubota Engine America is increasing its footprint in Latin America by collaborating with key partners, already adding 24 distributors in more than 20 different countries to its growing network. Kubota's growth is fueled by its dedicated Latin America development team that has spent the last two years identifying the best distributors to address local needs and strategically planning to bring and support Kubota's reliable Japanese technology to more people. 

Read More

Industry News

Oil Sands Advisory Group provides first round of advice to Alberta government

The government of Alberta has received the first round of consensus advice from its Oil Sands Advisory Group (OSAG). The group is composed of leaders from the oil sands industry, environmental groups, and affected communities. Its first task was to advise the province on growing oil sands production in compliance with its legislated 100 megatonne cap on annual emissions.

Read More

Industry News

Oil sands production forecast expects strong additions through 2019

IHS Markit has released its outlook for Canadian oil sands production through 2026. IHS Markit expects large production growth through 2019 — making Canada the second largest source of global supply growth during that time. More modest but sustained growth is expected beyond 2019, with oil sands production at the end of 2026 around one million bpd higher than in 2017.

Read More

Software & IT

New release of Seeq software expands data analytics and introduces new features

R17 is the sixth release of Seeq software in just the past 15 months, driven by input and use cases from customers expanding their use of Seeq. A key innovation in the new release is support for visual analytics on data in any time reference to provide improved correlation analysis of historical data sets, monitoring support of incoming data, and predictive analytics to anticipate future events and issues.

Read More

Drilling & Production

CAODC revises 2017 drilling forecast upwards

The Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors (CAODC) has announced its revised 2017 Drilling Forecast. The organization forecasts the following:

  • Projected 2017 wells drilled: 6,842 — an increase of 2,177 from original forecast
  • Projected 2017 operating days: 71,839 — an increase of 22,859 from original forecast
  • Projected rig count in for Year End 2017: 635 — a decrease of 30 rigs 

Read More