Advances in technology is important to Enbridge

Submitted Photo Baker Hughes’ new VECTRA HD technology, launched in February 2017, doubles down on the number of sensors in its Magnetic Flux Leakage inspection tools. The result is a more accurate picture than ever of pipeline fitness. Photo from @Enbridge blog.

Advances in technology are important to Enbridge, a company operating the world’s longest crude oil and liquids pipeline system in Canada and the United States, including in North Dakota.

All of the technology discussed below is in development but would be used across Enbridge once approved for use within Enbridge’s systems.

‘Digital twin’ showing pipeline fitness

Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest through the trees.

And for this particular analogy, those trees are millions of data points along Enbridge’s pipeline network–collected and reported by in-line inspection (ILI) tools, strain gauge sensors, and LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) remote sensing systems.

“Enbridge is quite diligent about using overlapping inspection and prevention techniques to diagnose pipeline fitness. But the challenge lies in the fact that there is no way of quickly and effectively visualizing all of the data that’s collected,” notes Tony Khoo, manager of Enbridge’s advanced analytics team.

“Much of the information exists as Excel files, and becomes a struggle for our pipeline engineers to visualize multiple data sets–and understand the underlying data relationships to one another.”

To save its pipeline integrity representatives of Enbridge, Microsoft and Port Coquitlam, B.C.’s Finger Food Studios went back to the innovation drawing board.

The result is a vital first step toward creating a “digital twin” for Enbridge’s vast pipeline network.

This augmented/mixed reality setting provides a 3D rendering of pipeline sections – demonstrating the ability to process vast quantities of data, and present the information in three dimensions. As a result, users are able to better pinpoint potential hazards in the pipe–including small dents, cracks, areas of corrosion, and pipeline strain caused by incremental ground movement.

“Encouraging innovation is a vital component of directing our own future,” said Trevor Grams, director of Enbridge’s Research Development and Innovation (RDI) unit. “It’s about more than just striving for incremental improvements in the work we do. Innovation is about looking differently at what we need to achieve, and asking how else we can get there.”

As a proof-of-value, the project merged 132 separate sets of pipeline data, as well as terrain information, to create a mixed reality environment depicting a 2.25-square-kilometer area in northern Alberta encompassing an Enbridge pipeline right-of-way.

Wearing Microsoft’s HoloLens glasses, users would be able to rotate, zoom and expand on the virtual image of the pipeline. Areas of concern along the pipelines are then depicted via heat map, with users able to view the various measurements, such as geological forces, and see changes as they occur over time.

Results of the project were presented at an American Petroleum Institute pipeline conference in July 2017.

“Such an application simply doesn’t exist in the pipeline industry,” notes Khoo. “If we are able to fully develop this solution, we would consider offering this to the pipeline industry in the interest of improving overall safety.”

Adds Enbridge’s RDI technology manager Chris O’Neill: “Technologies such as augmented reality have the potential to literally change the way we look at our system, and help us begin to appreciate the wider innovative potential when we treat data as an organizational asset.”

Enbridge’s advanced analytics team is currently establishing partnerships to help build organizational muscle in the augmented reality arena. In other industries, benefits have included:

-Reduced design processes;

-Improved training;

-Reduced maintenance costs.

“By leveraging such visualization technologies, our engineering teams have the potential to improve speed, understanding and collaboration in their decision making,” said Khoo.

“Using our advanced analytics as a foundation, we would continue building toward our vision of intelligent operations and maintenance of our energy assets.”

New powerful magnetic detection

There’s powerful magnetic attraction. And then there’s powerful magnetic detection.

Enbridge focuses heavily on prevention to keep its crude oil pipeline network safe. In-line inspection (ILI) tools–or “smart pigs,” to use industry jargon–are highly complex pieces of machinery that use advanced imaging technology to inspect our pipes inch by inch.

And in recent months, one of its partners in prevention–Baker Hughes Inc., the world’s premier pipeline inspection services company, unveiled an extra-strong magnetic magnifying glass, so to speak, for an extra degree of precision.

Baker Hughes’ new VECTRA HD technology, launched in February, doubles down on the number of sensors in its Magnetic Flux Leakage (MFL) inspection tools. The result is a more accurate picture than ever of pipeline fitness.

“Metal loss and corrosion can be caused by a number of factors,” says Geoff Hurd, a manager of process and pipeline services for Baker Hughes. “There’s gouging and third-party strikes from construction or farming activity, which can damage pipeline coatings and the pipe steel itself.

“There may be flaws during the manufacturing process, causing varying wall thicknesses,” he adds. “And sometimes, multiple protection systems in place are challenged in what can sometimes be a harsh operating environment.

“Ultimately,” says Hurd, “VECTRA HD provides early detection of any issues–with pinpoint locations of the smallest instances of metal loss and complex corrosion.”

Enbridge has entrusted Baker Hughes with robust ILI-based pipeline diagnoses since 1998. In that time, Baker Hughes has performed more than 400 pipeline inspections across Enbridge’s pipeline network, producing more than 70,000 kilometers’ worth of inspection data.

Baker Hughes’ VECTRA HD technology has nearly twice as many triaxial sensors–that is, sensors measuring potential metal loss in axial, radial and circumferential directions–per square inch of pipe.

Moving at about 4.5 meters a second through gas, oil or refined products pipelines, these VECTRA HD tools send back ultra-high-definition data indicating even the smallest features that may require further inspection.

“Basically, we’re talking about a better view of the pipeline all-around. The ILI tool, and our analysts examining the data, are seeing what others can’t,” said Hurd.

Maintaining the fitness of Enbridge’s pipes is key to ensuring a safe network. Enbridge has never experienced an internal corrosion failure on its mainline network, and it takes multiple precautions to keep it that way, including:

– Robust pipeline coatings

– Cathodic protection, the application of a low-level electrical current to all surfaces of the pipeline

– Enforcing stringent quality standards for every batch of oil entering its network

– Maintaining a high flow rate on its transmission lines

– Adding corrosion inhibitors to the oil in our lines.

Accordingly, Enbridge’s primary concern is the exterior walls of its pipes, and their susceptibility to third-party damage–one of the leading causes of pipeline leaks.

“We have different tools for various situations. If it’s a thicker pipe, we use specially designed tools that have the necessary magnetic strength to ensure we can confidently detect any corrosion on the outside of the pipe,” said Hurd.

Next-generation pipeline inspection tool

It’s about safety, it’s about reliability–and, ultimately, it’s about clarity.

“Think of this as investing in the creation of the 4K television, when 1080p high-definition isn’t good enough anymore,” said Trevor Grams, Enbridge’s director of Research and Development.

Enbridge and NDT Global, a leading ultrasonic pipeline inspection firm, recently announced a multi-year project to develop a next-generation inspection tool–one that will advance crack assessment capabilities in crude oil and liquids pipelines.

Unveiled during the Banff 2017 Pipeline Workshop, an international industry conference of operators and innovators, this research-based partnership between NDT Global and Enbridge is expected to further entrench Canada as a leader in advancing pipeline inspection and pipeline fitness technologies.

Enbridge is contributing $7.1 million to the $20-million project–which will focus on multiple inspection technologies, and aim to bring a next-generation crack inspection tool to commercial readiness by 2019.

“We’re working to create the next generation of inspection tools that make even the tiniest imperfections in a pipeline, most of which are benign, more understandable,” said Grams.

“The more clarity we have on those features within a pipe–the better information the tool gives us, and the more reliable that information is–the better we can manage our infrastructure.”

Over the past five years, Enbridge has invested more than $4.9 billion in the fitness of our energy infrastructure, with a heavy focus on prevention.

In-line inspection (ILI) tools–or “smart pigs,” to use industry jargon–are highly complex pieces of equipment that move through our pipes and use advanced sensor technology to inspect pipe walls millimeter by millimeter, searching for dents, imperfections, metal loss and corrosion.

While rare, cracking can also occur in pipelines through a variety of factors, including incremental slope movement, weld quality and fatigue due to pressure cycling.

“We’ve made a lot of progress in pipeline crack assessment through sensors, resolution and data analysis. But with this project, we’re talking about a step change–a big leap ahead in technology,” said NDT Global’s chief sales officer John Fallon. “We want to get to a point where we can eliminate the possibility of undetected cracking in a pipeline.”

Enbridge and NDT Global have a productive 15-year history of advancing pipeline inspection technology together.

“Many of the latest inspection improvements from NDT Global have been first validated with Enbridge in Canada,” notes Fallon.

Enbridge regularly shares with NDT Global the results of its verification digs, which are used to validate tool performance and drive improvements in data analysis algorithms. Based on the large number of inspections, NDT Global moved to a new and much larger Canadian facility last year in Leduc, Alberta–which includes a 22,000-square-foot warehouse offering a safe working environment and optimized tool testing capabilities.

“Generally speaking, Enbridge has the biggest and most complete integrity program of any pipeline operator worldwide, with a long-term perspective of driving technology forward. It’s very influential in the industry,” remarks Fallon.

“With more regulation and community attention, North America is setting those safety standards internationally–and within North America, it’s Canada that is showing significant leadership.”

Source: @Enbridge blog

Enbridge, a leader in crude oil transportation in North America, operates the world’s longest crude oil and liquids pipeline system in Canada and the United States.

Enbridge Pipelines has been present in North Dakota since 1996 when the company purchased Portal Pipeline. The company is the largest transporter of crude oil production from western Canada’s oil sand reserves and the productive Bakken Formation in North Dakota.