How smart technology is making pipelines safer

Pipeline technology is a hot topic on this blog. In previous posts you’ve read about SCADA, hyperspectral imaging, geographic information systems, geohazard management, and many other technologies, each of which provides critical data to pipeline operators.

As you can imagine, that’s a lot of data to process, and every piece that comes in could contain time-sensitive information about potential risks or hazards. While all the data is invaluable, the sheer quantity can present its own challenges for pipeline operators trying to analyze it all.

So much data, so little time

In the past, pipeline operators have faced the challenge of how to integrate data from so many sources in a logical and meaningful way; and quickly enough to allow them to respond proactively.

Today, data processing is a lot faster and more accurate, thanks to a technology called ’intelligent pipeline solution’. This is a system that automates the process of combining the data from all those different sources, and assessing risks. Mauricio Palomino, the senior solution architect for intelligent pipelines at GE Measurement & Control, says it helps pipeline operators analyze vast amounts of information in near real-time.

“A 100 km section of pipeline can generate 35 gigabytes of data every year,” said Mauricio. “Intelligent Pipeline Solution can take all that data and get ahead of problems before they happen.”

The intelligent pipeline solution can also analyze data from any source – whether it’s manually entered field data, real-time pipeline monitoring data or even information from custom-designed software. It can also factor in changeable information, such as soil movement or weather, to determine risk of failure before it happens.

Customized, digestible data 

Mauricio explained that pipeline employees are provided with personalized dashboards that allow them access to the specific notifications and information they require. This makes it simple for employees to see the most relevant information and also allows companies to restrict access for security reasons, if necessary.

“It’s been designed to be as easy to use as possible,” said Mauricio. “The technology consumes the data in the background and presents it in a way that is clear and precise. And by providing one system of reference that everybody can relate to, with different levels of access, you eliminate the search for the ‘one version of the truth’, where different people might interpret the data in different ways.”

Mauricio explained that the technology is the result of a unique collaboration: GE worked with Columbia Pipeline Group to identify and address their biggest integrity management challenges and develop practical solutions, and also with CEPA Foundation member, Accenture, a consulting technology and communication company who helped develop the business process changes required for a software like this to really work.

Although, to date, the technology has typically been used to help pipeline companies manage aging infrastructure, Mauricio believes it will increasingly be designed into new projects during the planning stage.

The future of pipeline integrity management

Mauricio believes that collaboration will provide one of the most exciting developments when it comes to pipeline integrity. For other industries, GE is already using ‘data lakes’ comprising anonymous data from multiple customers. By sharing their data in a safe and anonymous space, companies enable GE to more effectively understand their critical problems and develop better solutions. This is a type of collaboration that Canadian pipeline companies are already embracing, through the Canadian Pipeline Technology Collaborative.

You can read more about pipelines and technology in these blog posts:

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 117,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2014, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Our members transport 97 per cent of Canada’s daily natural gas and onshore crude oil from producing regions to markets throughout North America.