June 2018, Vol. 245, No. 6


PRCI President Discusses ILI, Tech Center

By: Joe Hollier, Editor

Cliff Johnson was named president of the Pipeline Research Council Institute (PRCI) in 2010 to help the organization respond to a growing drive for more reliable pipeline technologies in a period of intense safety and regulatory focus.

The organization has become increasingly global in recent years, with much of its growth coming from Europe, where PRCI has added sister associations and operating companies to its ranks in recent years.

Johnson, who earned a master’s degree in public affairs from the University of Texas at Austin, spent his previous 13 years at NACE International, which is widely considered the top authority on corrosion-control solutions worldwide.

In this interview, Johnson discusses collaborative research developments, advancing organizations aimed at involving young professions in the industry and what lies ahead for the Technology Development Center, which is now in its second year of operation.

P&GJ: Cliff, what goals have been set for PRCI this year?

Johnson: In light of the current public discussion about pipelines and their safety, the need for continuous improvement has never been greater. Our emphasis is always on delivering relevant research that can be implemented in a practical manner by our members. In 2018, we have a stronger focus on ensuring the results of the research is communicated.

mugshot - Cliff Johnson, PRCI

With a heavier focus on providing tools for implementation, such as our expanded webinar program and enhanced Research Exchange Meeting, we will concentrate on how PRCI research can be used to improve not only pipeline operations, but also the people and processes that support the industry. It is important to ensure that our work is moved into practice, and that we continue to develop a safer pipeline infrastructure. 


P&GJ: Can you tell us about the new Technology Development Center?

Johnson: The TDC is the result of a major commitment by the energy pipeline industry to address key issues related to safety and integrity. Now, well into its second year of operations, the TDC serves as an independent third-party site for both pipeline operators and service providers who use the facility both individually and as collaborators.

To see the TDC leveraged collaboratively by member companies and non-member companies alike, for both PRCI projects and non-PRCI research, gives me a great deal of satisfaction as that was the intent of the board when it approved construction.

Projects at the TDC have ranged from NDE [non-destructive examination] testing and qualification, to inline inspection technology testing and tool development, to the assessment of various technologies related to pipeline integrity management. The TDC is equipped with two liquid flow loops in 6-inch and 12-inch diameters and a state-of-the-art pull test facility that can be arranged in multiple strings and pipe diameters – all of which are used to the benefit of PRCI-funded projects and independent industry research.

I really encourage those in the industry to schedule a tour of the facility, so they can fully appreciate the value of this asset that is available to them.

P&GJ: Will you discuss some examples of collaborative technology developments that has been achieved by PRCI?

Johnson: Research projects that help operators enhance integrity management decisions and reduce the environment footprint of the energy pipeline industry come immediately to mind. Among those, The Field Test of Integrated Emission Reduction for Legacy Engines (ERLE) Technology, which resulted in research that provided a reduction in emissions, improved engine stability and efficiencies of legacy engines. Also, the push to reduce emission is a key part of our research portfolio.

The Determining Pipe Properties Using ILI Technology research provided guidelines for using ILI technologies and in-ditch, non-destructive examination approaches for determining pipe properties. This allows operators to use these techniques to meet the regulatory requirements for confirming pipe records are traceable, verifiable and complete, which, of course, is needed to establish maximum allowable operating pressure (MAOP) for a pipeline. Knowing the assets is key in determining the appropriate tools, process and techniques to ensure pipeline safety.

Finally, The Composite Repair Load Transfer Study resulted in tools that use critical factors in calculating pipeline pressure when addressing issues related to load transfer to assure the long-term performance of composite repair systems. This study provided the industry and regulators with the confidence that today’s composites provide adequate safety levels for base steel.

P&GJ: Have your efforts been altered by the change in White House administrations or the regulatory picture?

Johnson: As a research organization, the political climate has less of an impact on PRCI. Our focus is solely on delivery of innovative and applied research to continually improve the global energy pipeline system. The research conducted by PRCI is selected by our members and is a direct reflection of the industry’s priorities as they relate to safe and reliable pipeline operations.

As for regulations, it is the preference of PRCI and its members that the results of our research influence regulations, rather than regulations driving our research. Strong regulations should be based on the best research available. We have enjoyed a long relationship with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and are working to strengthen our relationship with the National Energy Board (NEB) to ensure we are a key resource as they consider regulations.

P&GJ: Tell us about your Program for Young Professionals and the impact it could have.

Johnson: PRCI partnered with the American (Young Pipeline Professionals) and Canadian (Young Pipeliners Association of Canada) pipeline professional organizations to develop The Emerging Leaders in Technical Excellence Program for Young Professionals mentorship program.

Its purpose is to develop and engage the next generation of technical leaders in an effort to facilitate knowledge transfer. The program features high-potential young professionals that will become the thought leaders in the industry. Participation in PRCI is an excellent opportunity for these young professionals to learn more about the industry, gain exposure to leading-edge research and build a network of some of the brightest and most experienced professionals in the industry.

P&GJ: How does PRCI go about adapting its process to meet the challenges involving pipeline integrity issues?

Johnson: To help guide members through the process of selecting research projects, which is done on an annual basis, PRCI established research objectives to ensure it is addressing the key challenges facing the oil and gas pipeline industry. These objective’s provide members with a unified and collaborative research agenda with key industry drivers that focus on technology transfer, implementation of results and a wide application of outcomes.

The PRCI Research Steering Committee (RSC) is then tasked with an oversight role across all of the technical committees to ensure projects are in strategic alignment with the objectives. This organizational structure of checks and balances allows PRCI to deliver research that is both critical and timely.

P&GJ: What progress has PRCI has made in its efforts to improve inline inspection technology?

Johnson: Recently, PRCI completed key research in the area of inline inspection (ILI) tools and technology. The program consisted of establishing the technical means and the collaborative forum for coordinating the collection and assessment of the industry’s crack management experience, enabling researchers to examine many facets of inspection tools and technologies, including the ability to detect and measure interacting corrosion and crack threats.

The report generated by this effort was a reliability analysis of ILI technology, “In-line Inspection Crack Tool Performance Evaluation.” The study resulted in the collection and analysis of over 50,000 crack features that were identified through crack tool ILI technologies and then compared against in-ditch NDE results.

The project and resulting database, which represents the most advanced industry analysis of crack ILI tools, has established the means for future industry collaboration on other ILI technologies. PRCI is in the process of using these results to establish a pipeline data hub that will facilitate the development and enhancement of tools, processes, and people associated with pipeline integrity and safety.

Another recent project examined the capabilities of current ILI tools. Following the pipeline failure in Marshall, Mich., in 2010, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) submitted a recommendation to PRCI in an effort to understand the abilities of the current ILI tools in comparison to the tools’ stated capabilities. To address this, PRCI built the Technology Development Center (TDC) and the parallel pull strings to begin evaluating the tools.

The results of the testing was very successful and showed that the tools meet the stated qualifications. This has set a benchmark that the industry will grow from as we continue to enhance the tools. Not only is the site a great resource for PRCI, but we are open for business for other operators, and tool providers and developers in order to enhance the tools of the industry. 

The TDC provides researchers with an in-service environment that allows for the comparison of ILI tool data to actual NDE results. We look forward to providing the needed research for the energy pipeline industry for years to come. P&GJ


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