Pipelines are statistically the safest method of transportation for oil and natural gas products. However, these transmission lines — whether upstream, midstream or downstream — are at constant risk from corrosive elements. Corrosion control is a critical component of the overall pipeline industry and its efforts to keep pipelines operating safely and efficiently.
While the world’s leading corrosion control association gears up for its annual conference, NACE International’s Corrosion 2014, March 9-13, four of its top leaders spoke to North American Oil & Gas Pipelines about the challenges and trends facing the industry this year and beyond.
• Harvey Hack, Ph.D., P.E., FNACE — NACE International president 2014-2015 and senior advisory engineer at Northrop Grumman Corp., Undersea Systems.
• Kevin C. Garrity, P.E. — NACE immediate past president and executive vice president of the integrity solutions division at Mears Group Inc.
• Jerry Rau — chair of NACE International’s Pipeline Operators Council and director of pipeline integrity at Energy Transfer.
• Drew Hevle — vice chair of NACE International’s Technical Coordination Committee (TCC) and manager of corrosion control services at Kinder Morgan.
These panelists collaborated on the answers you see below.
Q: How is the market for corrosion control providers in the oil and gas pipeline sector? Is it strong, weak or stagnant and why?
The job market for corrosion professionals is very strong, both domestically and internationally, possibly the strongest it’s ever been. The demand for NACE International Certified professionals is at an all-time high. There is tremendous competition for qualified and experienced professionals; the increased activity in oil and gas production is starting to draw experienced professionals away from other industry sectors. NACE International is working to help meet this demand by increasing its educational programming and by offering training in multiple and growing numbers of locations around the world, including the new NACE International Training Center in Dubai, which opens this April. In addition, NACE International offers job placement services for corrosion professionals.
The market for corrosion control services is very strong. The regulatory emphasis in integrity and safety and operating company diligence has created many opportunities for service providers. International operating companies are keeping a close eye on U.S. infrastructure needs to ensure that they are prepared for corrosion control and system integrity requirements as their systems continue to mature.
From the operators viewpoint the market is also strong. There is a lot of competition, which is always welcome when it comes to pricing, and competition also provides innovation and increased efficiency as methods of doing business are fine-tuned to get the work done faster, cheaper and with greater reliability.
Q: What methods of corrosion control provide the best results for pipeline integrity management?
There is no simple answer, no one-size-fits-all methodology; the methods depend on a number of factors such as the environment around the pipeline, the age of the pipe, the use of cathodic protection or coatings, etc. The most popular corrosion control technologies are the use of coatings and cathodic protection, and corrosion monitoring is practiced by essentially all operators.
A combination of integrated technologies and techniques and a well-stocked corrosion control “tool bag” have allowed the industry to better manage corrosion issues. The NACE International publication Guide to Improving Pipeline Safety by Corrosion Management provides a programmatic approach to managing corrosion on pipelines. In particular, it is critical to feed back the results of integrity assessments into the monitoring and mitigation programs so that they are effective.
Q: What are the top concerns related to corrosion control in the oil and gas pipeline sector for 2014?
Changes in U.S. domestic natural gas production have dramatically changed the pipeline transmission business model, and the industry is scrambling to accommodate these unconventional natural gas resources. Expectations continue to be raised for safety, environmental responsibility, reliability and efficiency.
In the regulated portion of the industry there is uncertainty regarding pending changes to federal regulations, making clear open dialogue between the industry and regulators vital. In all likelihood it will come down to striking a balance in managing system integrity needs within a dynamic regulatory framework and a finite set of financial resources.
One other concern is what is called the “Silver Tsunami,” a wave of retirements that will result in many open positions and the loss of a tremendous amount of institutional knowledge. Fortunately, young people entering the industry have proven that they can become very effective and productive in a short period of time with the proper training; it’s just that more of them are needed to enter the industry.
Q: With the heightened awareness of pipeline failures in the past few years, how can the corrosion control industry mitigate public concerns about infrastructure?
People fear what they don’t understand. As an industry, we need to constantly encourage education and public awareness to emphasize all of the safeguards that are in place that allow us to safely manage the integrity of our more than 3 million miles of pipeline infrastructure in the United States alone. For our industry, success is judged by what does not happen. When the rare event does occur, sometimes with tragic consequences, the message of how well we do in safely maintaining a huge pipeline infrastructure is tarnished.
Transportation by pipeline is far safer by any measure than any other form of transportation. The public is more tolerant of accidents that occur through truck or train transport than those that occasionally occur through pipeline transport, possibly because vehicular accidents occur daily and pipeline accidents don’t. Our great success is therefore overshadowed by our few failures. NACE International is working hard to positively impact public awareness of our successes.
Q: What corrosion control measures can be put in place to address aging infrastructure in the oil and gas sector?
Aging infrastructure requires a comprehensive approach to manage corrosion, including monitoring, mitigation (such as cathodic protection, underground coatings, painting, maintenance pigging and chemical treatment) maintenance and integrity assessments.
An integrity management regime that incorporates system operating history, corrosion control history, direct assessment, in-line inspection and pressure testing offers the best opportunity of identifying risk, enhancing safety and targeting corrosion control remediation measures. We are constantly assessing the risk of our aging infrastructure to decide when to retire, rehabilitate or replace assets that are at risk.
Q: What challenges do operators and corrosion control service providers face in the oil and gas sector?
The challenges include the evolving regulatory environment, a skewed public perception of the industry, employment and retention of qualified corrosion professionals, integrating new research and technology into standards, and the disengagement of senior level management on corrosion related issues.
There are also challenges in assisting operators in managing system integrity with innovative and cost effective corrosion control technologies. Innovation is expensive and there is insufficient funding for research and development of new and improved technologies that can improve the process of achieving effective corrosion control. There needs to be more emphasis on the necessity of research and development.
NACE International is at the forefront of working to meet those challenges by working with regulators, promoting public awareness, encouraging and training new corrosion professionals, writing standards and educating senior level management. These are all part of the organization’s comprehensive strategic plan.
Q: How have government regulations in North America affected corrosion control practices related to oil and gas pipelines?
Regulations have helped us to create an extremely safe pipeline infrastructure in North America. While this success can be largely attributed to the diligence of the responsible operating companies involved, legislation and regulation are also critical.
The benefit of government regulations becomes obvious by looking at unregulated industries. For example, there are hundreds of thousands of unregulated bridges in the United States that are deemed to be “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete.” Yet more than 3 million miles of regulated pipeline infrastructure in the United States represents the safest means of transportation of oil and gas. The partnership of the regulators with the operators within the NACE International consensus standards development process has created corrosion control standards that can be effectively embodied within these regulations.
Q: What trends to you see in the market for 2014 and beyond?
We are seeing an increased focus on integrated technologies for risk management and methodologies to assess the reliability of corrosion control practices, as well as development of more robust risk management systems with process management and identification of the performance metrics that affect the way we operate and maintain our systems.
The big changes we’ve seen in the areas of production will require changes to infrastructure, with new and reconfigured pipelines. Better technologies will provide more data, and better analytical tools will extract better answers from the large amounts of data that are being generated. We’ve entered the second cycle of integrity assessments in the natural gas pipeline business, and it is changing how we view the results of assessments, with more focus on how conditions are changing and feeding back results into mitigation programs. NACE International is leading these changes through promotion of research, development of new standards and regulations, and by training and certification of corrosion professionals.