6 Technologies That Are Transforming Pipelines
New discoveries and extraction techniques have opened multiple oil and gas shale regions in extremely remote areas. This has increased the demand for transportation systems, supporting a concurrent growth in the pipeline services market. Key services include pre-commissioning activities, installation, commissioning, inspection and maintenance. However, the pipeline services market is highly competitive and suppliers are looking at emerging technologies to give them a competitive advantage. Suppliers are investing in the development of Internet of Things (IoT) assisted services that are replacing conventional pipeline services. Technologies such as 3D scanning, phased array ultrasonic testing (PAUT), and offshore remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) have increased the reach of pipeline services and are helping pipeline service providers to offer competitive prices to buyers.
Six such technologies that are transforming the pipeline service industry include:
1. Subsea Automated Valve Actuation System (SAVAS)
Developed by Baker Hughes, a GE company (BHGE), SAVAS eliminates the need for vessel relocation from launchers, helping the receiver to close or open valves before or after hydro-testing. By eliminating transit operations, it saves significant vessel time and also eliminates the risks associated with recovering subsea launchers and receivers. SAVAS is deployed at the receiving end during pipelay or installed before flooding.
2. High-Pressure Smart Gauge Tool (HPSGT)
Widely implemented by BHGE, this tool avoids the exclusive need to recover the test head and examine a gauge plate before hydro-testing. HPSGT also reduces the risk of weather delays, while decreasing the number of ROV deployments required. It has a very high PSI pressure rating and uses electromagnetic communication, rather than acoustics, to detect buckles, dents, or excessive weld penetration.
3. Magnetic Flux Leakage (MFL) and Ultrasonic Testing (UT):
MFL is used to determine the geometry of metal loss that may occur in liquid and gas pipelines, while ultrasonic testing allows suppliers to take a direct measurement of the thickness of pipeline walls. For critical applications, UT provides an accurate and reliable scan of wall thinning and corroded areas, while very detailed information about pitting corrosion is obtained from MFL.
4. Remote Flooding Module (RFM)
One of the most popular technologies used today, RFM enables flooding and pigging subsea pipelines to use the available hydrostatic head to flood and pig subsea pipelines with required pig speed, filtration, and chemical treatment. Using the hydraulic power from an ROV to power a custom-built pump skid that’s connected to the RFM allows all pigging and pipeline testing to be performed subsea. It is used widely in the industry by BJ, Halliburton and BHGE.
5. Intelligent Pigging
An inspection probe, referred to as a “pig,” is propelled through a pipeline to gather important data such as the presence and location of corrosion, irregularities on the inner walls of the pipe and the pipeline's diameter, curvature, bends and temperature. Intelligent pigging also enables pipeline companies to perform advanced inspection activities in addition to cleaning the pipeline.
6. Subsea Pigging and Hydrostatic Testing Unit (SPHU)
SPHU combines pigging and hydrostatic testing capabilities into a single unit, allowing for dual operations during a single trip to the seabed. It has the ability to change modes, from pigging to hydrostatic testing, thereby eliminating the need to recover the unit during pre-commissioning operations and hence reducing the time required to complete operations.
Emerging technologies are playing a vital role in the pipeline services market. In the wake of increased demand, supply must increase at an equivalent rate, which usually translates to increased costs for procurement managers. In order to enable greater cost savings and encourage procurement, pipeline service providers — as well as engineering procurement construction (EPC) firms — are investing heavily in research and development to leverage the transformative potential of technology.