... Speeding Up Pipeline Mapping Using GNSS Technology  

Speeding Up Pipeline Mapping: How GNSS Reduces Time in the Field and Increases Accuracy of Asset Data Collection

Every year thousands of new gas pipelines are installed, and field engineers must record data on the pipeline components including the pipe segments, connections, asset type, pressure tolerance and personnel. Details down to individual welds are captured and entered into a geographic information system (GIS) database to support utility operations and asset management. In many cases, the data must be recorded before a pipeline is buried. Utilities use the data to identify pipes in the field with potential problems. Global navigation satellite system (GNSS) technology has become the latest way to collect this data to support utility operations and asset management. Once collected, the data can be shared with other utility companies and public agencies, who also need to locate pipes quickly.

Out of necessity, one engineering firm developed an enhanced GIS system compatible with other geospatial systems to support the gathering of asset information required by regulatory agencies. Suburban Consulting Engineers Inc., (SCE), which has worked with gas utility companies for decades, developed techniques to collect live as-builts of their clients’ pipelines and still meet Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) standards.

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As part of the process, SCE uses the Esri GIS platform to provide a consistent geospatial framework to record the detailed information. A custom library of forms for each gas utility client’s data collection enables Field Engineers to work with standard workflows while capturing asset information. They use Trimble R2 GNSS receivers with TDC handheld data collectors running on Esri Collector software to capture the locations and geotagged images. In some cases, they use a GNSS network built on virtual reference station (VRS) technology.

The GNSS receivers provide positional accuracy down to centimeter-level, so technicians are confident in the location of data. By using the large capacity data storage feature in the handheld data collector, they can maintain large spatial databases, which can store information and location tagged images. For each project, the collected data is transitioned to an Esri geodatabase where they perform Quality Assurance (QA) and Quality Control (QC) for connectivity between pipeline sections and consistent attribution. That data is fully traceable, verifiable and provides a complete record for the life of the assets in accordance with the PHMSA regulations.

The company’s GIS technicians no longer need to model or translate data since each client can see a full digital twin of their pipeline, customized to each clients’ existing schema and formats and updated weekly.

Jacob McGlincy, GIS Supervisor at Southern Company Gas, recognizes the benefits of using GNSS with GIS. At the end of a new pipeline project, he was asked to find all the pipe segments installed on a transmission pipeline project that were manufactured on a specific day, had a specific type of coating and had a field bend.

“It took five minutes to query our data and identify seven pipe segments from more than 1,100 that had been installed, together with their exact locations in the field.” McGlincy said. The seven segments were verified, and the pipeline was commissioned on time. “Without real-time access to the data, this research could have taken days or weeks with many exploratory digs to find and verify these segments,” he said.

Using GNSS, companies are also reducing labor costs. Data collection is used more during pipeline construction since only one day of information is needed to provide the enhanced data into a different GIS. In the past this data couldn’t have been captured with the same degree of precision.

“What started as simple pipeline feature collection is now moving to material collection,” said Marc Sheridan, natural gas GIS department manager at SCE. Inspection reports are going digital and soon inspections and close-out packages will provide complete pipeline documentation.

Author Information: Nicholas Duggan is a chartered geographer and writer with several decades experience creating geospatial solutions in national mapping agencies, renewables (offshore and onshore), nuclear, proptech, 3D and 4D using many different GIS and web mapping platforms. 

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