Protecting pipeline integrity – it’s a full-time job!

Every single day, CEPA member companies’ approximately 110,000 kilometres of transmission pipelines transport the energy that heats our homes, powers our vehicles and is used in the manufacturing of many of our household items. And these pipelines are incredibly efficient, transporting millions of barrels of oil every day.

All this activity goes on beneath us so safely and efficiently that very few Canadians actually witness it happening. But that doesn’t mean pipelines operate unobserved. The reality is quite the opposite – for pipeline companies, monitoring pipelines is a full-time job.

Pipeline safety – protecting the public, company employees and the environment – is a top priority for pipeline operators. And the best way to ensure the safe operation of pipelines is by maintaining pipeline integrity.

Pipeline integrity: ensuring that a pipeline and all its related components are running properly.

Focus on pipeline integrity

Pipelines are a form of physical infrastructure – much like railway tracks and highways – and this means they must be maintained to avoid damage and ensure proper operation. For pipeline companies, this protection of pipeline integrity is a core focus, built upon three fundamental areas of focus:

Pipeline design and construction

Safety is top priority through every step of the pipeline building process. Pipeline safety is built right in through the use of thoroughly tested building materials, as well as high-performance coatings that protect against corrosion and environmental damage. What’s more, pipeline routes are specifically chosen so that they minimize environmental impact and human interaction.

Pipeline monitoring

Pipeline monitoring is an around-the-clock job: companies monitor their pipelines twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week from remote control centres across Canada.

These control centers use devices, such as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems to collect information from sensors installed along the pipeline route. This information is then transmitted back to the control center. In the control center, highly qualified technicians, who have received extensive training in pipeline operations and emergency response, evaluate the information and determine if further action is required.

Pipeline inspection and maintenance

Much like monitoring, pipeline inspection and maintenance is an ongoing process. Every day workers are on the ground, inspecting equipment and making sure everything is functioning properly.

To aid them in their jobs, these workers use a number of highly sophisticated technologies, including in-line inspection tools.

In-line inspection tools: sophisticated tools that are used to inspect pipelines from the inside to identify changes such as dents or wall thinning that could threaten the integrity of the pipeline.

Check out this video that illustrates how in-line inspection tools work to detect cracks, dents and other changes that could impact the integrity of a pipeline:

Should any issues be observed with pipelines, pumps, valves or other equipment, maintenance and inspection staff act quickly to repair them. At the same time, they’re continuously checking against safety requirements and calibrating instruments.

An industry example

Arti Bhatia, director, pipeline and corridor risk management for Alliance Pipeline Limited, provides an example of how high-tech instruments like those mentioned above, make it possible to closely monitor entire pipeline systems, from start to finish, and on a regular basis.

“Alliance routinely carries out comprehensive technical examinations of its pipeline system that exceed regulatory requirements. Regularly evaluating a suite of measurement data that integrates detailed information enables Alliance to keep a close watch on every millimetre of its 3,719 kilometre-long line,” she says.

And this is a commitment that Alliance takes seriously.

“As part of our proactive pipeline condition monitoring programs, and within less than 12 years of operation, Alliance has twice inspected the pipeline system with high resolution ILI technologies – and we will commence the third round in 2013.“

This dedication to pipeline integrity serves as a promise to Canadians that their safety, and that of the environment, is always top priority.

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 110,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2011, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Our members transport 97 percent of Canada’s daily natural gas and onshore crude oil from producing regions to markets throughout North America.