November 2019, Vol. 246, No. 11


How to Readily Access Accurate Data in Pipeline Integrity Management

By Randall Stremmel, Senior Advisor for Asset Integrity, Metegrity

Pipelines are among the most complex and critical assets to manage in the world. As evidenced by a recent study into pipeline incidents over the past nine years, the stakes with pipeline failure are high: on average each day in the U.S. alone, 1.7 incidents are reported, requiring nine people to be evacuated and causing almost $1.3 billion in property damage. 

Accurate data, available on site, continues to increase in importance.
Accurate data, available on site, continues to increase in importance.

In fact, a pipeline catches fire every four days and results in an explosion every 11 days – resulting in injury every five days on average, and a fatality every 26. 

With the plethora of leaks and explosions that have been occurring recently, and the increased emphasis on pipeline regulations with the new laws and standards coming out, you are likely all too aware of the stakes. The question is: How can you get ahead of them?

The answer lies in digital data. With the recent surge in digitalization, critical and accurate information about pipeline health is more readily accessible than ever. Tools now exist that deliver real data in real time at all stages of the pipeline’s lifecycle – from construction through to operations. 

In fact, even inspection work can be reported immediately from the field via mobile tablet. All of this can translate into substantial productivity gains, risk mitigation, and reduced likelihood of failure – but the real game changer is the access to readily accurate data from your asset at any time. Let’s examine how.


 In my experience, there are two common complaints from pipeline operators, and they occur at two different stages of the pipeline – one during construction, and the other during operations – but they are at their core the same: access to readily accurate data. 

For the construction stage, the information needed is progression; everyone wants to know when the project will be complete so they can commence with asset operations. However, with information being gathered by several different people along the spreads and then compounded together to be submitted by upper management, the process takes as much as two or three days. By the time the information reaches the decision makers, things have already changed.

On the operations side, the challenge is even being able to find the data as many projects still run on spreadsheet and PDF.  It is very time consuming to locate valuable asset information after the project is gone – and with it, those who did the contracting. The result? Someone who wasn’t part of the initial project must come in “cold” to mine information through large PDF files or even binders in banker boxes. 

Then there is the issue of regulatory compliance. There are too many examples of companies who did not follow regulations or any time of quality systems during the construction process who then must scramble for information when an issue arises. These companies not only lose millions in fines, clean up and, and loss of revenue without product running through the pipeline, but they also lose the confidence of the public (which can send stocks tumbling). All these issues can be solved with proper inspections and data collection – which costs pennies now in comparison to the millions that not having it could cost later.

Most issues incur during commissioning or after the pipeline has been in operation. Those issues require mining information through the documentation gathered during the construction of the pipeline. However, by the time an issue occurs during operations, the original construction crew is long gone.

This presents a challenge when conducting pipeline integrity management. If you’re involved in the operations of the pipeline, you now must mine for data through all the documentation gathered during the construction process – with no way of knowing where the data you need is located or whether it’s even accurate. In this environment, the flow of information up the food chain is time consuming, often inaccurate, and by the time it reaches decision makers, the information is old.


The solution to these problems lies in digitalization: capturing, collecting, storing and analyzing all asset data digitally on a single database. The best practice for pipeline integrity management is to operate within a framework to collect the data required for regulators and commissioning.  The key is to collect it in a very uniform and precise manner for future elevation.  The best systems for this purpose should use a framework that is created by the operators for what they want to collect, which then guides the technicians who gather that data. 

You can now use a single provider to digitalize all stages of the pipeline lifecycle: 

During construction with a pipeline quality management system: This allows you to collect the progression information accurately in real time. All welds that have been completed, coated, NDT, surveyed, covered, crafts, etc. – all gathered in an hourly/daily manner digitally and stored in a central location. 

With the data stored in a true, searchable database that can be accessed anywhere in the world via Wi-Fi, you have overall visualization in near real time, all the time, on the progress of every aspect of the project.  This in and of itself exponentially improves the productivity and accuracy of the construction phase of the pipeline. 

Arguably even more important, however, is the foundation it lays for the future operations of the asset, when issues occur, and all the construction data is easily retrievable. In fact, systems exist today that can take the data obtained during construction and populate it automatically into the asset integrity management software.

During operations with an asset integrity management (AIM) system:  This allows management of all asset types across all locations from a single database. Pipeline systems include compressor stations, pumping stations with intermediate product storage, gathering systems, wellheads, inline heaters, etc. The key is to find an AIM software that manages all asset types simultaneously.  

Using separate integrity systems for separate asset types can only impede efficiency. It creates information silos that make it difficult to ascertain the full picture at any given moment, and requires more time and cost investment to retrieve, compare, and garner intelligence from data. 

Additionally, managing pipelines in isolation could potentially lead to loss of containment in one or the other, because corrosion information is less likely to be “shared” between the individual groups responsible for managing each. 

In addition to pipe, other asset types with unique profiles must be considered – including pig launchers and receivers, emergency shutdown devices (ESD), motor operated valves (MOV), relief systems, chemical injection facilities, corrosion coupons, upstream equipment such as wellheads or above ground storage tanks (AST), and downstream equipment such as basic crude or gas processing facilities.

The right AIM software acquires, collects, analyzes and reports all asset data digitally, directly from the field, even via mobile tablet on cloud-based servers. Advancements in geographical mapping make it possible to create a “digital twin” of your pipeline for a large picture view of the system. 

It allows everything concerning the system, including all equipment types, to be managed from one location – including all Risk Based Inspection (RBI) assessments. It harnesses inspection planning based around risk to ensure that critical assets receive necessary attention without wasting resources on non-critical inspections. 

Reduced inspection frequency and heightened risk mitigation translate to equipment failure being reduced by up to 50%. Data is always readily available, clear audit trails are established, and you are always adhering to regulatory compliance – able to generate reports with the click of a button.

This right AIM software makes it possible to stay compliant with not only with regulations but also the operator’s specifications.  By working within a framework, all the data is gathered uniformly and consistently, in a structured manner for proper analysis.  

During inspections via mobile tablet: With this technology, inspection work is assigned from the AIM software to a secure, mobile software platform that inspectors can utilize via tablet directly in the field. 

With it, they can download, organize and conduct their work as they go in digital format, and then sync those results immediately via Wi-Fi. The result? Immediate access to key information from the field. No more filtering up the chain for two to three days until the information received is already too old to use.


Capitalizing on these technologies always has obvious and immediately apparent benefits due to substantial time and cost savings with accurate data on all facets of your pipeline being readily accessible. Yet, the real benefits to going digital are the ways you can leverage the data in the future. These include:

  • Estimators can use the information to see how construction through certain areas slows down or speeds up, depending the terrain;
  • Estimators can mine costing information compared to the sub-vendor, terrain, and land owners;
  • Evaluations of sub-vendors (easily see their performance on past projects);
  • Land people can easily pull up land agreements in areas where operations have already gone through to give them an idea of what they need to do and who to talk with;
  • Engineering can gather information of constructability and operators compared to cost/man-power/ operations;
  • Engineers during the design phase of other pipeline can use data collected to give them a fact-based data for performance;
  • Managers can use the LEMS for other projects to give an estimate for labor, materials, and machinery that will be needed;

When seeking technology for this purpose, save yourself unnecessary complication by looking for a single provider that offers all three stages mentioned above. Specific features to look for when it comes to software for pipeline integrity management include:

  • Optional availability to import new pipeline construction data from the construction process, which is a huge value to the pipeline project/integrity/operations group in managing the ongoing health of the pipeline.
  • Ability to import in-line inspection data directly.
  • Visually plot significant geographical features or defects, providing a large picture view of the pipeline system.
  • Ability to plot many of the tasks completed on a pipeline segment on a “google style” or ArcGIS map to visually represent activities performed on the pipeline.


The stakes are high for pipeline operators. Regulations are becoming stricter, standards more frequently enforced, and costly incidences are occurring every day – making it more crucial to be able to access vital information about your assets in real-time, all the time. 

With new digital technologies, it is possible to do exactly that. There is no reason to continue with the tedious, time-wasting methods of the past when readily accurate data could be instantly available to make key decisions that could save millions of dollars. The long-term benefits of adopting this approach quickly outweigh the short-term investment required – as mentioned earlier, it’s pennies today compared to dollars tomorrow. The time is now.

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