New Gas Transmission Pipeline Rules Expand Risk Management with Tight Timeline

New Gas Transmission Pipeline Rules Expand Risk Management with Tight Timeline

In the aftermath of a natural gas pipeline explosion on September 9, 2010 in San Bruno, California, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) identified several concerns with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA’s) oversight of performance-based safety programs, and recommended that the Secretary of Transportation conduct an audit to address these concerns.

Pipeline safety in the U.S. and many other parts of the world relies on the regulatory concept of Integrity Management. Integrity Management programs – required by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)– stipulate how and where pipeline operators must identify, prioritize, assess, evaluate, repair, and validate the integrity of their pipelines that could, in the event of a leak or failure, endanger human health.

san bruno explosion

The San Bruno pipeline explosion killed eight people at 6:11 pm PDT on September 9, 2010.

Until recently, Integrity Management programs primarily focused on managing risks to human health in High Consequence Areas (HCAs), generally defined as areas along a pipeline in which 20 or more buildings intended for human occupancy could be significantly impacted in the occurrence of a pipeline failure. In other words, the buildings fall within the pipeline’s potential impact radius (see Figure 1). While the potential consequences of a pipeline accident are deemed higher within HCAs, nearly half of all pipeline accident-induced injuries, property damages, and fatalities have occurred outside of HCAs since the promulgation of Integrity Management rules.

Signaling an industry-wide move toward more comprehensive risk management, PHMSA released new rules on October 1, 2019 that expand Integrity Management programs for gas transmission pipelines beyond HCAs to include Moderate Consequence Areas (MCAs). MCAs are defined as areas along a pipeline in which 5 or more buildings intended for human occupancy are located within the pipeline’s potential impact radius in the event of a failure (down from HCAs’ 20-building threshold) (§ 192.3). Additionally, MCAs include sites where 4-or-more-lane arterial roadways are located within a pipeline’s potential impact radius.

medium consequence areas as defined by new PHMSA regulation

Figure 1. Example of how a pipeline’s potential impact radius and nearby structures interact to determine High Consequence Areas and Medium Consequence Areas where operators must implement Integrity Management programs. Wherever an MCA is identified, operators must conduct integrity assessments (§ 192.710) and reconfirm the pipeline segments’ Maximum Allowable Operating Pressure (MAOP) (§ 192.624).

 

According to the new rules, MAOP reconfirmations are required for all HCA and MCA pipelines segments that can accommodate inline inspection instruments and whose MAOP is equal to or greater than 30% of the pipeline’s specified minimum yield strength(§ 192.624).Operators must develop procedures for MAOP reconfirmation of qualifying MCAs by July 1, 2021.

The new rules present a tight timeline for compliance. If operators are to meet the deadline of producing MAOP reconfirmation procedures by mid-2021, they must immediately begin to identify the newly required MCAs – zones that operators have never needed to consider until now.The arc of policy is pushing the pipeline industry evermore toward risk abatement and stewardship of human health. SolSpec’s mission is to help industry efficiently align with and lead the trajectory toward safety and sustainability. SolSpec uses high-performance computing and artificial intelligence to empower operators with fast, meaningful data and analytics that set the bar for hazard identification and prediction, resource allocation, and risk management.

Traditional integrity management programs focus on the integrity of the pipeline; yet, a pipeline’s safety also depends on the stability of its surrounding environment. The Right-of-Way Integrity Management solution addresses external threats to pipelines for a more complete integrity program. The RIMSpec’s annual subscription includes access to high-fidelity terrain and orthomosaic libraries through SolSTAC, access to the SolSpec viewer and deliverables in the form of risk prioritization, monitoring plans, emergency response plans, and analytic layers.

SolSpec Selected for Technology Showcase at Shale Insight Conference

SolSpec Selected for Technology Showcase at Shale Insight Conference

SolSpec’s ROW Integrity Management solution helps detect, predict, and prevent geohazard and environmental risks that affect pipelines.

DENVER, Colorado – Oct. 21, 2019 – SolSpec, Inc., a leading provider of aerial analytics and data management software for energy and civil engineering, will present its aerial pipeline inspection and monitoring solution during the Technology Showcase at SHALE INSIGHT™ 2019, the nation’s leading conference on American shale energy, industries and jobs, Oct. 23-24 at the David Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburg, PA.

SolSpec is among only seven companies selected to present at the Technology Showcase taking place Oct. 24th from 9:00 am to 10:45 am. SolSpec Chief Operating Officer Bryan Crowe will discuss SolSpec ROW Integrity Management, an aerial mapping, modeling and inspection solution for proactively addressing landslides, stormwater runoff, vegetation encroachment, and other geohazards and environmental risks that affect pipeline right-of-ways.

“The use of aerial analytics for pipeline inspection and monitoring creates extraordinary efficiency and accuracy for Pipeline Integrity Management programs, delivering data and actionable insights that support safer and much more efficient pipeline operations,” said Bryan Crowe, COO of SolSpec. “We’re honored to be selected as one of the presenting companies in the Technology Showcase at SHALE INSIGHT and look forward to demonstrating how SolSpec is being used to prioritize how crews monitor pipeline assets to lower risk and prioritize resources while reducing operating cost and increasing safety.”

The Appalachian region remains the largest natural gas-producing region in the United States. Appalachian natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica/Point Pleasant shales of Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania continued to grow, with gross withdrawals increasing from 24.2 Bcf/d in 2017 to 28.5 Bcf/d in 2018. As demand rises, ensuring efficient, safe and environmentally sound transport of natural gas through interstate pipelines and other critical infrastructure are paramount to the future of the shale industry. Identifying environmental conditions on and off the ROW that may threaten the integrity of pipeline infrastructure is crucial for expediting incident response and providing ongoing proactive issue mitigation.

SolSpec ROW Integrity Management is a data-driven environmental and geohazard risk analysis and modeling solution for analyzing known and potential threats to right-of-ways. A full-service offering, SolSpec’s team of data scientists and FAA-licensed pilots start by first collecting photogrammetry and LiDAR data within the right-of-way via manned or unmanned aircraft and create a baseline risk assessment with plug-and-play flight plans for ongoing monitoring of high-risk areas. Data is then processed via SolSpec’s secure cloud-based geoprocessing platform and proprietary analytical models based on analysis of over 1.7 million acres of landslides and ROW projects to create high-resolution maps and 3D models for comprehensively visualizing and quantifying risk to pipeline safety by measuring slip conditions, hydrology, erosion control, and slip potential. Models and analysis consider factors as specific regional population density, product type, class location, potential impact radius, and environmentally sensitive areas and produce simple, actionable easy to use reports. With this information, operators can allocate resources to the areas that may have the largest impact, mitigating risk, accelerating incident response and time to repair, reducing costs and improving public safety and environmental responsibility.

In addition to the Technology Showcase presentation, SolSpec will demonstrate its solutions at SHALE INSIGHT, exhibitor booth 334.

About SHALE INSIGHT:
Hosted jointly by the Marcellus Shale Coalition™ (MSC), the Ohio Oil and Gas Association and the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, SHALE INSIGHT™ is a leading and widely-attended policy, innovation and energy outlook-focused forum. As part of the conference, the MSC Research Collaborative will host the annual Technology Showcase on October 24, 2019 from 9:00 am – 10:45 am in which suppliers of emerging technologies introduce their innovations to the natural gas producer, midstream/pipeline, downstream and service communities. More information shaleinsight.com.

About SolSpec:
SolSpec was founded in 2017 with the goal to improve environmental and public safety and to increase efficiencies for the energy industry. SolSpec’s aerial analytics and data management platform represents best-in-class data processing for all aerial imagery. Leading companies in the energy, oil and gas industries rely on SolSpec to transform aerial data into actionable insights that inform decisions to create a safer and more sustainable planet. Visit us online at solspec.io.

How Can Big Data Impact Land Reclamation?

How Can Big Data Impact Land Reclamation?

Toby Kraft, Founder and CEO of SolSpec, spoke about “Playing Offense and Being Industry Advocates” at the May 19, 2019 Summit for Reclamation and Construction. The annual Summit, hosted by Huwa Enterprises in Keenesburg, Colorado, is a unique conference where professionals come together to learn, share, and network with industry experts dedicated to protecting the environment.

“So as all good millennials do, I wake up every single day and spend every waking hour engaging with some social media platform,” Kraft opened, introducing the value of big data by drawing a common big data comparison with the advertising world. Social media platforms store extensive information related to their users’ interests, and the massive amount of data generated by millions of users drives much of the backbone of modern marketing.

Why let retail be the main industry that capitalizes on big data? Why aren’t the construction and reclamation and energy industries taking advantage of big data for their projects? These are the questions at the core of Toby’s presentation. Collecting data and providing information from past and current projects can build benefits for all – we can learn from the mistakes others have made and drive future success. “A lot of you are probably thinking ‘Yeah, okay, that sounds utopian,” quipped Kraft.

Big data can empower decision makers in the construction, energy, and reclamation industries and result in safer, more successful projects. But success can only come from working together to improve our industries’ practices. Kraft called on his colleagues at the Summit to remember that “our neighbor’s failure or our competitor’s failure is our failure.” Collaborating and building databases of geographic information doesn’t weaken your company or strengthen the opposition. Uniting our data and sharing information is the approach that will keep our industries strong, because without it our future work is threatened.

Kraft’s vision with SolSpec is not just to identify hazards that already exist. Combining data gathered regarding surface hydrology, soil information, geologic details, and the massive stores of siloed data that runs across the industry and third parties makes it possible to predict future hazards. A prioritized list of current and potential hazards empowers decision makers to prioritize mitigation efforts and resources, and do better work for long-term success and improved community relations.

Diving into real-life scenarios, Kraft highlighted for the audience the value and impact of data-driven solutions in land reclamation and construction. One example was Appalachia, one of the richest areas in natural gas in North America. Recent construction of infrastructure, more in the last five years than in the previous fifty, has resulted in loss of vegetation in deciduous forests. These forests and unconsolidated soils cover the characteristic steep slopes of the region. Big rainstorms in this context can cause mass soil movement and landslides, which compromise local pipelines and assets. Compromised pipeline and right-of-way integrity cause undue risk, environmental damage, and financial loss.

Another example Kraft discussed was California, which is dealing with increased threats from fires. Last year’s Camp Fire burned 150,000 acres, destroyed the city of Paradise, and killed 46 people. The likely cause of the fire was a spark from a utility asset that caught the vegetation near the asset. Data gathered from flyovers and processed with analytics can reveal vegetation encroachment. That information can help direct fire prevention efforts around existing utilities and stop a destructive disaster.

“What could the headlines look like a year from now if we all come together around these issues and we get ahead of it and we play offense? What could the future look like?” asked Kraft. Fewer disasters, increased efficiency, prioritized use of resources, and improved reputations for our industries. To learn more about how Kraft and the team at SolSpec are taking our industries to the cutting edge, go to https://solspec.io.

If you’re interested in attending, sponsoring, or exhibiting at the 2020 Summit, go to www.usareclamation.com for more information.

How Oil and Gas Midstream Is Moving Into the Digital Age

How Oil and Gas Midstream Is Moving Into the Digital Age

The oil and gas pipeline industry is constantly evolving, becoming safer, and more efficient. One of the best methods to do this is by digitizing. In this article, we will discuss the digitization process and what it means for the midstream oil and gas companies that are taking advantage of this process as well as what it means for those that are not.

What Is Digitizing and How Does It Apply to the Oil and Gas Midstream Industry

Digitizing is the act of converting data into a format that computers can read. Essentially, the digitization (also known as digitalization) process creates a digital image that can be used by both people and computers. An example of this could be converting images into a midstream pipeline map.

hillslope threat
Using SolSpec’s software platform you can view your site’s hillslope threats.

Once digitized, computer software could analyze the map and check for slope anomalies and other threats to the ROW. Using UAVs and continuous monitoring services, this data could be continuously updated. The computer could then compare the integrity of past slopes with current ones which could be used to alert midstream operators of any changes.

In the past, this was a process that human inspectors would have done as they could have inspected on-site or through manual image review. As you can imagine, it was both time-consuming and labor-intensive. Digitizing made this process much faster and reduced the work required. Let’s look at some other ways digitization has helped midstream operations.

Data-Driven Mapping and Anomaly Checking Verses Reviewing Images by Human Eye

There are many advantages of using data-driven mapping and anomaly checking compared to manual methods of human eye image review. Some benefits include:

  • An increase in speed
  • An increase in safety
  • Easier compliance with government regulations
  • Better protection of the environment
  • A better public image of pipeline operations
  • Reduced costs

Speed Increases

Yale University Press reports that a personal computer can now operate 1 billion times faster than the human brain. Not only this, but it also works with much higher skill. This is because a computer can represent and distinguish 4.2 billion data differences. Man simply cannot biologically reach this level of accuracy with the human eye alone.

As a result, companies that take advantage of digitization get more accurate reports and get them faster. Speed itself is useful, but it also has many other benefits.

Safety Increases

Increased processing speeds improve safety. The quicker the computer can relay slope changes to midstream pipeline companies, the faster these slopes can be repaired. Repairing a slope early could avoid a landslip while the ramifications of repairing too late could potentially be catastrophic.

The human eye can’t always detect slope changes as early as a computer can. Consequently, companies that use software to search for these slope changes will always find them sooner than if they rely solely on a human inspector.

A Better Relationship with the Government, Environment, and the Public

A midstream pipeline company is always going to have to work with government on a local, state, and national level. Each government agency has its own needs and expectations. Using data-driven mapping and digitized data helps midstream companies meet and even exceed these expectations.

Quick data collection and anomaly checking also help protect the local environment. Computer software can be used to check for ROW encroachment into protected habitats. Any encroachments can be quickly rectified before any damage to the local environment occurs.

Such swift actions lead to better public relations. This facilitates future business for midstream pipeline companies. Conversely, companies relying on human-reviewed anomaly checks tend to be less proactive and often end up having to repair problems only after the damage has been done to surrounding areas. This can make acquiring future contracts difficult.

Reduced Costs

According to a report written by the World Economic Forum, “digitalization has the potential to create around $1 trillion of value for Oil and Gas firms”.

Costs savings include:

  • Reducing time for completion of pipeline goals
  • Reducing slope failures
  • Reducing ROW encroachment and overgrowth
  • Reducing environmental damage

Time Savings

Digitization improves the speed of virtually every midstream pipeline action. For example, sensors can be used to detect abnormal temperatures, so inspectors need not take constant readings. Midstream pipeline operators can access real-time data at any time during pipeline operation, and midstream pipeline services can be requested immediately as situations arise.

Learn more through two case studies:

This reduces the time it takes to rectify any pipeline issues, which in turn reduces the time the pipeline remains inactive. According to PG&E, a gas pipeline could send gas at rates of around 15 mph through the line. Two hours of downtime and customers could find their gas 30 miles away when they need it.

Slope Failure Reductions

Continuous monitoring can lead to a reduction in slope failures, often causing considerable damage to pipeline operations. Slopes can be protected as soon as outside influences begin to affect them.

For example, a company using digitization to perform anomaly checks quickly finds a slope losing its integrity. Upon further examination, this company finds that the area adjacent to this slope funnels water into the slope, causing damage. The company can take steps to eliminate or slow this water flow before the slope is severely damaged. This eliminates the costly repairs that would have had to be done on the slope if the situation were allowed to continue for a longer time.

Encroachment of a ROW and the Environment

Finding and stopping ROW encroachment and plant overgrowth can also save costs. That’s because cutting trees is less expensive when they’re young and small than when they’re bigger. The larger the tree, the more equipment will be needed to cut it down. Larger equipment is expensive to operate and more likely to cause ROW damage.

The reduction in environmental damage, as a direct result of digitization, can also help to save midstream oil and gas companies money. This is because environmental damage can lead to fines and lawsuits. Not only this, but the damage must be repaired, which can be costly on its own.

The Benefits of Digitization and Aerial Analytics in Midstream Pipeline Operations

The combination of aerial analytics and digitization benefit oil and gas pipeline projects. Additional reasons to digitize midstream pipeline operations include:

  • Digitizing makes planning and the allocation of midstream oil and gas assets clearer and more accurate
  • Safety checks can be done before endangering humans
  • Continuous ROW and pipeline monitoring can be done faster and more accurately
  • Non-destructive examinations can be facilitated

Digitizing can help companies to allocate their resources better. Maps created through aerial analytics can be used to discover geohazards so that teams will know what to expect before they head out into the field. This means planners will have a better idea of what their midstream pipeline investment will cost them before boots ever hit the ground.

Digitization and aerial analytics can work together to provide continuous monitoring of the ROW. This gives midstream oil and gas companies the ability to discover issues as they arise and to deal with them before they have a chance to cause any damage to the pipeline, the ROW, the workers, or the surrounding areas.

Also, digitized aerial analytics data can be used to eliminate environmental damage that traditional inspection teams may have in the past. UAVs, for example, can be used non-invasively to access nearby ROW areas. This allows inspection without ever driving or stepping on.

Final Thoughts

Digitization and aerial analytics have revolutionized midstream oil and gas pipelines. It made the entire industry much safer, more cost-effective, and less labor-intensive. Companies using these technologies serve their customers better while earning more money.

Solspec is happy to help in any way we can. Our company has many years of combined experience and is willing to put that knowledge to work. We offer constant monitoring, and 3D models, as well as industry standard reports to help monitor any and all terrain.

Why Risk Indexing Is Vital in Prioritizing ROW Hazard Tasks

Why Risk Indexing Is Vital in Prioritizing ROW Hazard Tasks

Companies understand that any right-of-way (ROW) project requires accurate risk indexing. They devote a massive amount of resources to index the risks before, during, and after each project. But why is risk indexing so vital?

Risk indexing is vital in prioritizing ROW hazard tasks. It helps planners to identify the likelihood of hazards and the potential impact these hazards can have on both the right-of-way and surrounding areas. This enables planners to allocate resources to where they’re needed most.

What is Risk Indexing

Before discussing its importance, we must explain what risk indexing is. Risk indexing is the identification and prioritization of potential hazards and risks to a ROW. This is important because risks with a higher likelihood of occurrence require more time, attention, and resources. This can’t happen if right-of-way managers are unaware of potential risks.

Added risks could include safety hazards, financial hazards, environmental hazards, and even legal hazards. They may also include risks the right-of-way could pose to the local area.

ROW managers, for example, need to be aware of environmentally sensitive areas to reduce the impact of a right-of-way. They are known as EGHCA class areas and are EPA regulated and monitored.

Once these risks are identified and added to the index, they’ll be categorized and scored so that each hazard can be appropriately prioritized. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all method for indexing risk, so some ROW management teams may categorize risks differently than others. But, they all have the same end goal of identifying potential risks and determining which risks need more resources and which don’t.

What Are ROW Hazards and ROW Hazard Tasks

Right-Of-Way hazards can include:

  • Safety Hazards
  • Financial Hazards
  • Environmental Hazards
  • Legal Hazards

Right-of-way Safety Hazards

Safety hazards can be as simple as new workers slipping and falling on the right-of-way during construction. In fact, Supreme Industries did an investigation and found that 70% of the slip, trip, and fall injuries occurred to employees who had been with the company for less than 6 months. Armed with this information, the company was able to design a training program that dropped these slip, trip, and fall injuries down to zero.


Using analytics, we can assess where there is potential for geohazard activity, like a landslide.

Another example of a safety hazard is that certain roadside rights-of-way might be more dangerous than others. Right-of-way planners could mitigate this risk by installing additional physical barriers that would ensure the safety of the workers as well as the right-of-way itself.

Environmental Hazards

Different ROWs may be subjected to various environmental hazards as well. For example, a right-of-way near the mountains of Colorado might be vulnerable to avalanches while a ROW in Florida might have to worry about hurricanes or flooding.

While the environment may put the right-of-way at risk, the right-of-way could also potentially endanger the environment. Rights-of-way in or around areas with at-risk habitats will need to take steps to ensure that they have no adverse effects on these areas. Risk indexing helps to identify these locations along the ROW.

Legal Hazards

A long pipeline project could have a right-of-way that stretches for many miles. Midstream pipeline builders and operators will have to work with local governments, private property owners and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to establish agreements to operate in certain areas.

Sometimes, even after starting a project, legal issues may arise around these agreements. Different states and localities may have different laws on how these issues are resolved, making legal problems riskier in some areas of the country than others.

Slip/Slope Failure

For most right-of-way projects, the most substantial hazard could be slope failure. This is especially true with pipelines. The reason for this is that pipelines typically run over long distances and will almost always run near mountainous terrain where landslides are likely to develop.

A slope failure will result in a landslide that could endanger the safety of builders, pipeline operators, the surrounding areas, and the actual pipeline itself. Compromised slopes can lead to mud slipping down into sensitive areas of the pipeline. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, landslides have damaged millions of cubic meters of pipelines.

Financial Hazards of ROWs

Improper risk prioritization, or lack thereof, can lead to costly financial repercussions. Many ROW hazards that may have previously been restored quickly with the help of risk indexing might well end up costing exponentially more later on. Catching issues sooner, rather than later, is a priority for any company. It can often save a considerable amount of time and money in the forms of preventable labor, legal, environmental, and other costs.

For example, slope failures can lead to landslides and, as a result, cause massive damage to pipelines, ROWs, and surrounding areas and is almost always costly. If residences or environmentally sensitive areas are affected as well, the total end cost will rise, and legal troubles could ensue. Preventing these incidents with proper risk indexing enables appropriate resource and labor allocation and can be vastly more economical than paying for cleanup, restoration, and restitution after the fact.

Why Is Risk Indexing Vital

Keeping workers safe is vital to any pipeline project. Risk indexing can let project managers know where the most immediate danger lies within the ROW, so they can focus on improving safety in these areas.

Protecting the surrounding environment. Risk indexing can also help right-of-way planners determine which habitats are most affected by pipeline construction and maintenance. These areas can then have more resources allocated to them to help mitigate any potential damage to the local environment.

Profits can also be increased by proper risk indexing. That’s because risk indexing ensures money goes to the areas that need it most. It also minimizes escalation of costs caused by delayed maintenance.

It also helps to keep pipeline construction on schedule. This is because it helps predict potential problems that may otherwise have shut down pipeline activities.

How Is Risk Indexing Accomplished

The book, Risk Assessment in Setting National Priorities, states that “to be cost-effective, a prioritization system must be simple, rapid, and accurate.” For this reason, many companies use UAVs designed to map and monitor a ROWs geography. To demonstrate the risk indexing process, let’s look at how a UAV company could create a risk index for landslips along a pipeline project.

Landslips Along Pipelines

A UAV monitoring company might start the process by creating a baseline map to identify and eliminate any immediate concerns. The UAV could locate several slopes to be rebuilt along a ROW. Slope repair contractors could move in and restore the slope before even starting construction in a right-of-way. The slopes deemed to be the greatest danger are rated higher so work can start on them first.

UAVs will then be used to monitor the ROW continuously, looking out for actual slip movement and to create predictive assessments. Moving slopes and those that could pose a greater hazard to sensitive areas will be moved up the risk index. Upon completion, UAVs can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the remediation efforts.

Environmentally Sensitive Areas

UAV monitoring not only protects the pipeline but also protects environmentally sensitive areas. For example, UAV monitoring can be used to create a two-tiered analysis to monitor what happens to the ground and its potential environmental risk. This type of monitoring is especially critical in areas running through or around at-risk habitats.


Monitoring the surface hydrology through UAV imagery and analytics can protect environmentally sensitive areas

Monitoring an area using UAVs will help the pipeline to comply with EPA regulations and any other governing bodies concerned with the potential impacts of the ROW and pipeline. Doing so will also help to keep the company in good standing with the public. This is critical as a poor public image could impede the construction of new projects in the future. Conversely, a positive public image could make it easier and faster for the company to obtain the approvals it needs to create new projects.

In these cases, heat maps are usually created to allow right-of-way managers to see, at a glance, which areas should take top priority and receive the most resources. Commonly the color coding system uses dark red to denote areas that are most at risk.

Final Thoughts

Risk indexing is a complex process that involves many different areas of a ROW. With the help of specialized knowledge and expertise, as well as the latest in UAV technology, this process can be simple, cost-effective, and accurate.

Solspec is serious about risk indexing. We know that keeping pipeline projects on time, keeping workers safe, and reducing the environmental impact are all critical to your project’s success. We are proud to have some of the fastest data turnaround times in the industry. To find out how Solspec can help your teams with hazard identification, indexing, and more, check out our ROW integrity management page.

Why Continuous Monitoring Is Essential to ROW Management

Why Continuous Monitoring Is Essential to ROW Management

An enormous amount of time, energy, and resources are devoted to the maintenance of ROWs. Unfortunately, all of this effort and money can be wasted through improper management. Because of this, it is essential that right-of-way management teams have all the information they need to be successful.

Why is continuous monitoring indispensable to a ROW management plan? Continuous monitoring gives companies the ability to easily track the progress of the project, manage vegetation growth, detect hazards, keep the environment safe, and manage stormwater runoff. Let’s look at why this is important.

Tracking the Project’s Progress

A ROW covers hundreds of miles and the projects they are based around can often take years to complete. These projects must adhere to proposed budgets and timelines. It’s crucial for right-of-way management teams to accurately track the progress of their project, so they know whether they’re on schedule or they need to make changes.

For example, an oil and gas pipeline project uses its ROW to build, operate, inspect and maintain its pipelines. This makes the right-of-way a critical component of laying the pipeline in place as running it is not feasible or even safe if the foundations for the right-of-way are not adequately prepared.

Managing Vegetation Growth

Once the right-of-way is in place, it can be encroached upon by natural vegetation. Managing this vegetation growth is crucial or serious problems can occur.

For example, the EPA found that overgrown trees were the cause of the massive blackouts on August 14, 2003, in both the United States and Canada. These blackouts affected over 50 million people and cost the American economy $7-$10 billion. This entire situation could have been avoided if the trees were simply inspected, cut back or taken down where appropriate.

Keeping the Environment Safe

stormwater management example
Aerial imagery and analysis support detailed reporting required to stay in compliance.

Critical habitat compliance is an integral part of any right-of-way management plan. This helps to keep endangered species from peril and strengthens the local environment around the ROW. It also helps people comply with the FWS, and any other state and local government agencies regulating local wildlife safety.

Continuous monitoring can help the management team immediately identify and rectify any intrusion into nearby endangered species habitats. This keeps wildlife safe from harm and the company safe from litigation.

Managing Stormwater Runoff

Mismanaged stormwater runoff can cause many problems for both the infrastructure found within the rights-of-way as well as the areas surrounding it. Stormwater can pollute local waterways and can cause flooding which can damage the right-of-way, the project found within, as well as the local community.

These floods can become safety concerns and can even open up the right-of-way management team to legal issues. Therefore, many state and federal regulators have strict enforcement procedures managing stormwater runoff.

Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality, for example, asks sites for their specific plans to deal with stormwater runoff. Once these plans are in place, the right-of-way management company must work within these parameters. This is not possible without continuous monitoring of the area.

Detecting Hazards

Other hazards may pose an even greater risk to the ROW. For example, slope degradation can occur which will eventually lead to landslips. According to Access Science, “every year, landslides claim thousands of lives and cause considerable economic damage to buildings, roads, and other infrastructure around the world.”

Landslides can form as a result of human interference as well as natural causes like rainfall and snowmelt. Unstable slope conditions can occur overnight which often makes them difficult to detect before they become a problem.

Continuous monitoring helps reduce this issue as problems can be detected as they form. Once at-risk slopes are discovered, they can be repaired or modified to prevent a landslip event.

This process of continuous monitoring for landslides doesn’t have to be labor-intensive. Hazard detection software can be used to predict where issues are most likely to occur. This software can detect slope grade changes, inspect soils, and predict landslides long before they occur.

How to Continuously Monitor a ROW

Because of how important it is to monitor a right-of-way, you may be wondering how continuous monitoring is accomplished. There are two ways that you can do this. The first is ground-based monitoring systems and the second is aerial monitoring.

Ground-based monitoring is done with trucks, ATVs, and people. Aerial monitoring can be done with planes, helicopters, UAVs, and even satellites.

Ground-Based Monitoring Vs. Aerial Monitoring

In years past, inspectors would have to inspect everything from the ground or from aircraft such as planes and helicopters. Aerial monitoring was expensive but still better than ground monitoring. This was because some areas of a ROW could be challenging to access, and many rights-of-way are hundreds of miles long making them hard to continuously manage without an extensive inspection team.

Aerial monitoring enabled inspectors to cover hundreds of miles in a single day and gave them easy access to areas otherwise difficult to reach. Unfortunately, this was expensive, and still required people to fly the planes and inspectors to sit inside the aircraft.

Today it relies more on technology and airborne vehicles equipped with LiDAR and photogrammetry equipment to make monitoring activities much less labor-intensive. These technologies, combined with advanced prediction and monitoring software, make it efficient and accurate.
stormwater management example
Planting vegetation is one of the many ways to mitigate the movement of earth on pipelines.

What Is the Best Type of Aerial Monitoring System

As discussed earlier, there are a few different aerial monitoring systems that can be used to monitor a right-of-way. Each system has advantages and disadvantages, which we’ll discuss in the rest of this section.

Current aerial monitoring systems include:

Helicopter and Airplane monitoring. It’s expensive, often requiring large amounts of fuel. Monitoring this way can also be inconvenient for local residents and poses higher risks. For example, flying large aircraft near residential areas increases the likelihood of crashing.

On the other hand, airplanes and helicopters can carry heavy monitoring equipment as well as people. This means the instant an issue is detected, people can be dropped off at the site to physically inspect the area.

Satellite monitoring is excellent for covering large areas as it can watch over all of these areas at one time. It also excels in monitoring areas when high wind conditions make this impossible by aircraft.

The drawback to this technology is that it’s costly and can only provide a bird’s eye view of the ROW. This means that hazards such as weak slopes that are located under dense vegetation may never be seen by the satellite.

UAV monitoring, on the other hand, is extremely flexible and can often inspect areas that even small planes and helicopters cannot. It is also a much more cost-effective solution than satellites, airplanes, and helicopters. A multitude of UAVs can be used to monitor large swaths of a ROW for a fraction of what it would cost to monitor these areas with just one plane or one helicopter.

These advantages make UAVs the most efficient and effective type of continuous monitoring a right-of-way can employ. As UAV and detection software technology continues to improve this will become even more evident.

How Are UAVs Used to Monitor ROWs

To demonstrate how UAVs are used to monitor ROWs, we’ll talk about the most critical component of monitoring a right-of-way; the detection and prevention of landslides. Landslides pose a significant safety risk to the people and infrastructure working inside a right-of-way. For this reason, it is vitally important that they are detected before they are triggered.

A landslide occurs when a slope becomes unstable. Heavy rains, snow melts, and even human intervention can cause this instability. Fortunately, this instability can often be seen before it results in a real landslide.

UAVs can detect this instability as it happens by first creating 3D maps of the right-of-way and surrounding areas. Once these maps are created, the UAV will continue to create new maps with each flight. Early detection software can compare these maps to look for any differences.

Upon identifying a potential problem area, a UAV can be sent to take a closer look. It can use photogrammetry to take pictures that human inspectors can examine. This helps speed up the detection process and aids in keeping human inspectors out of harm’s way. It also helps to inform slope repair crews of the dangers and challenges they’ll face during the repair before entering the affected area.

Final Thoughts

With today’s technology, all parts of a right-of-way can be monitored continuously. There are many efficient and cost-effective solutions to meet almost any management plan’s budget constraints. Continuous monitoring should, therefore, be a part of every right-of-way management plan. It is the responsible thing to do.

Since 2016, SolSpec has helped identify possible landslide areas near pipelines. Our company is helping maintain safe pipeline rights-of-way using the latest in landslide prediction models and software.