What is pipeline integrity?

Pipeline integrity means ensuring a pipeline and all its related components are running properly. In short, it’s about keeping the pipeline safe for life. Everything is done to ensure pipelines are designed, built and operated to be safe, reliable and sustainable. CEPA members focus on pipeline integrity through every aspect of the pipeline life cycle – from design and construction to operations, maintenance and retirement.

There are many methods, technologies and practices to ensure pipeline integrity. CEPA members may vary in their exact safety procedures, but their goal is always the same – to deliver the energy Canadians need in the safest, most efficient way.

Pipeline operators use a variety of technologies to inspect their pipelines to ensure they are operating safely and efficiently. Photo courtesy of Enbridge Pipelines.

Pipeline operators use a variety of technologies to inspect their pipelines to ensure they are operating safely and efficiently. Photo courtesy of Enbridge Pipelines.

Design and construction

Planning for safety

Pipeline operators recognize they must plan the safest, most efficient pipeline route. Route planning includes everything from engineering assessments to valve placement to corrosion mitigation. This phase requires engineers, environmental experts and hundreds of others working together. They look at a number of different factors, including a thorough assessment of the proposed right-of-way and its surrounding natural environment.

Unique features that must be protected, like waterways and environmentally sensitive areas, are identified and planned for.

Preventing corrosion

Corrosion is a major threat to pipelines, so preventing it is a key part of protecting the integrity of a pipeline. One way is applying special coatings to the outside of the pipe. The coatings are formulated to adhere to the steel, creating a powerful shield against corrosion. Another way pipe is protected is through cathodic protection – a process where an electrostatic current is applied to the pipes to prevent corrosion.

Advancing technology

The Canadian Pipeline Technology Collaborative (CPTC) gets Canada’s leading experts in pipeline technology working together to develop innovations that boost pipeline safety. This includes government, pipeline operators, scientists, university researchers, manufacturers and member associations, including CEPA.

Some of the world’s leading experts in pipeline technology are working together to boost safety.

Monitoring

Monitoring with SCADA systems

Every CEPA member has a master control room where all their pipeline operations — every remote sensor, every maintenance operation, every patrol on the ground and in the air – are monitored. Remote monitoring and control systems called SCADA systems (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) gather critical information from pipelines and alert technicians in control rooms if there’s a problem. These systems are similar to those used in airports and space stations to monitor complex data flows.

Watching outside the pipeline

Crews patrol the line in ATVs doing regular maintenance and keeping a careful eye on the pipeline right-of-way. Drones and low-flying aircraft are also used to scrutinize pipelines from a bird’s eye view. Video surveillance cameras fitted with temperature sensors watch for signs of leaks. And inside the pipe, remote sensors track any changes in pressure, flow rate or temperature.

Multiple systems are used to watch every part of the pipeline.

Detecting invisible hydrocarbon vapours

Pipeline operators mount specialized cameras on the ground or on aerial vehicles that inspect the right-of-way. They are also permanently mounted at critical locations, such as river crossings. The cameras are able to detect small amounts of evaporating hydrocarbons, which give off a unique hyperspectral signature. These cameras are so sensitive they can show extremely low volumes of evaporated hydrocarbons within a two km radius of the camera.

Hyperspectral signatures help detect even the smallest of leaks.

Watching with fiber optic technology

Leaks can cause unexpected temperature changes in the soil surrounding a pipeline. Fiber optic cables placed along pipelines can sense these temperature changes, as well as acoustic vibrations from a leaky pipe. Signals are sent to the control room and anything out of the ordinary triggers alarms.

This technology transmits information to the control room at 300,000 km per second.

Sensing leaks through pressure changes

Like the ripples that occur when a rock is thrown in a pond, a similar rarefaction wave is produced when the pressure in a pipeline is reduced due to a leak. This is known as the “pressure wave method” and pipeline operators use sensors that can detect these pressure changes. A change will set off alarms.

Small leaks cause a detectable change in pressure.

Pipeline inspection and maintenance

Tracking every metre of pipe

Advanced computer software programs create a profile of how every segment of the pipeline performs in normal conditions – flow rate, pressure, and temperature. Then if sensors in the pipeline detect a change, the pipeline can be inspected, and shut down if necessary.

Even small leaks can be detected quickly.

Inspecting the inside of the pipeline

Sophisticated technology allows operators to see anything out of the ordinary, like minute cracks or signs of corrosion, from inside the pipe. Like a small submarine, devices called smart pigs (pipeline inspection gauge) travel inside a pipeline using ultrasonic technology similar to medical MRIs. They monitor the health of the pipeline, diagnose issues such as metal defects, forecast potential challenges and report any issues to the pipeline operator.

The pipeline is filled with a powerful magnetic field as the smart pig passes through. The magnetic field is used to detect metal loss in the pipeline – if there is corrosion, the magnetic field will ‘leak’ out of the pipeline in that area and be detected by the device’s sensors.

Smart pigs watch for any potential issues from inside the pipe.

Listening for leaks with acoustic technology

The SmartBallTM is another piece of technology that travels inside the pipe to detect leaks. It is placed inside the pipeline and rolls along with the gas or fluid using highly sensitive acoustic sensors to detect leaks, weak pipe or gas pockets. By measuring changes in amplitude, phase, frequency, or time-delay between the input and output signals, SmartBalls can detect leaks as small as a pinhole.

Detecting pinhole sized leaks from inside the pipeline.

Checking the integrity of the pipe

Pipeline operators also regularly conduct integrity digs, which involves excavating a section of buried pipe to clean and examine it. If a defect is found, it is repaired and recoated and the pipe is re-buried. CEPA members conducted over 3,100 integrity digs in 2015 to examine pipelines for suspected defects and make repairs.

Thousands of integrity digs are done annually to check pipelines.

Keeping the inside of the pipeline clean

Operators will also clean inside a pipe to prevent corrosion. Large rotating wire brushes attached to a smart pig are sent through the pipeline on a regular basis. As extra protection, corrosion inhibitors may be applied to gas lines during this process.

The inside of a pipeline can be regularly cleaned to prevent corrosion

Any changes in regular operation are quickly detected and investigated.

Maple Station Smart Pig - TransCanada

Inline inspection tools, called smart pigs, move through a pipeline travel through a pipeline to monitor its health, diagnose issues such as metal defects, forecast potential challenges and report any issues to the pipeline operator. Photo courtesy of TransCanada.

Pipelines have shutoff valves and remote sensors installed. The sensors will send information to the master control room on flow rate, pressure and temperature, allowing technicians to closely monitor the line. Photo courtesy of TransCanada.

Pipelines have shutoff valves and remote sensors installed. The sensors will send information to the master control room on flow rate, pressure and temperature, allowing technicians to closely monitor the line. Photo courtesy of TransCanada.

Some of the world’s leading experts in pipeline technology are working together to boost safety. Photo courtesy of Enbridge Pipelines.

Technology is a powerful tool for protecting pipes from corrosion.

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