How Technology Helps Meet FERC & PHMSA Pipeline Regulations

October 11th, 2018 by Katrina Engelsted

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How Technology Helps Meet FERC & PHMSA Pipeline Regulations

While the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration are not the only regulatory bodies involved in the creation, operation, and maintenance of pipelines, they are the dominant players in this industry. Complying with the regulations set forth by these bodies helps pipeline companies stay safe, legal, and profitable. Fortunately, the proper use of technology makes compliance easy.

Knowing how technology helps meet FERC & PHMSA pipeline regulations is critical to the success of any pipeline project. Technology helps determine the profitability and feasibility of running a pipeline, it helps with construction planning, and it helps monitor installed pipelines and the surrounding areas for safety.

In this article, we will look at how technology has the ability to impact four phases of FERC and PHMSA pipeline regulations. These are:

1. Technology’s role in the Pre-Construction Phase

2. Technology’s role During Pipeline Construction

3. Using Technology in Pipeline Operation and Maintenance

4. How Technology Helps Record Keeping

So let’s break it down…

1. Technology’s Role in the Pre-Construction Phase

Before a pipeline is even created, companies must determine whether or not the endeavor will be profitable. This is a requirement of FERC and companies must submit this information to FERC before they can get approval to run their pipelines.

Additionally, companies must gather right-of-way information, survey data, adjacent landowner information as well as tax jurisdiction information. This must often be done over a pipeline project that may span for hundreds of miles.

Technology helps in this pre-construction phase in many ways, including the following:

· Drones for Aerial Mapping

· Flood Mitigation

· Slip Potential Analysis

· Soil Moisture Content Analysis

Now let’s examine them…

Drones and Aerial Mapping In the Pre-Construction Phase

To help with the collection of all of this data, drones can be used in conjunction with advanced software systems to create maps and to help survey the area. This helps cover large areas quickly and reduces the need for surveyors to require access hard to reach areas.

The data can then be used to create what is known as a geographic information system, or GIS. A GIS is a software system that helps gather information needed to comply with both FERC and the PHMSA. According to the Oil and Gas Journal, “A GIS can contain all the information needed for right-of-way management and taxation, adjacent landowner’s information, survey data, emergency response plans, and situation reports for the pipe.”

Once this is done, drones can use remote sensing technologies to identify areas prone to flooding, to collect soil moisture data, and to check for terrain stability.

Flood Mitigation and Slip Risk Evaluation

Knowing how much flood mitigation and landslide protection needs to be done before starting a project helps companies provide profitability projects to FERC. This same data also helps provide safety information that they can then relay to the PHMSA.

If you’re unfamiliar with this organization, the PHMSA’s primary purpose is to ensure the safety of pipelines. In their own words, the “PHMSA is responsible for regulating and ensuring the safe and secure movement of hazardous materials to industry and consumers by all modes of transportation, including pipelines.” You can read the rest of their mission statement at https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/phmsa-regulations.

Soil Moisture Content

An area’s soil moisture content will help construction companies determine what type of equipment they’ll need to excavate the land. This is a determining factor in the initial cost analysis of the project which helps the business determine whether or not to run the pipeline in the first place.

2. Technology’s Role During Pipeline Construction

Technology’s involvement in meeting FERC & PHMSA pipeline regulations doesn’t end in the planning stages of a pipeline project. Among the technologies utilized during pipeline construction are:

· Sensors, Advanced Protective Coatings, and X-rays

· Smart Pig Inspections

· Hydrostatic Testing

Here are the details…

Sensors, Advanced Protective Coatings, and X-Rays in Pipeline Construction

They utilize the same sensors used in the pre-construction phase to help ensure there aren’t any landslide or flood risks that may harm the pipeline, the workers, or the surrounding areas. The drones are also used to keep an eye on vegetation growth so that vegetation management can be completed before it becomes a problem for the pipeline.

Technology even plays a role in the creation of the pipes used in the pipeline itself. Advanced protective coatings are applied to help protect against corrosion. Corrosion is one of the biggest causes of pipe degradation, and any technology that protects against corrosion will also help protect the pipeline and the surrounding areas from leaks and spills.

Once the pipes are connected and corrosion protection is applied, x-rays are done on the weld joints to ensure that there are no issues surrounding them.

Smart Pig Pipeline Inspections

Lastly, smart pig inspections and hydrostatic testing technology may be used to assure the pipes will be able to hold more pressure than needed while in operation.

A smart pig is a pipeline inspection gauge that runs through the pipe looking for potential defects. If it finds any defects, it will transmit location data back to the pipeline company so that they can make the proper repairs.

Hydrostatic Testing

Hydrostatic testing uses water to test for leaks and can be used along the entire pipeline or in specific areas where smart pig testing was not sufficient enough to determine the safety of the pipeline.

These tests confirm the integrity of the pipeline and identify weak areas so that the pipeline will meet the safety guidelines laid down by the PHMSA.

3. Using Technology in Pipeline Operation and Maintenance

Technology is especially critical in the ongoing operation and maintenance of a pipeline. FERC will want to keep information on taxes, tariffs, and market trading and the PHMSA will want to ensure that the pipeline is safe and that there isn’t any leakage or spills. SCADA, satellites, sensors, drones, and robotics all have an active part in todays pipeline operations and maintenance.

Here are some of the ways technology is implemented after construction is completed, for the operations and maintenance of the pipelines:

· Supervisory control & data acquisitions software

· Satellites

· Sensors and automated Controls

· Drones and Data Visualization

· Robotics

So let’s dig in and see how…

Using SCADA In Pipeline Operations

Supervisory control & data acquisitions software, otherwise known as SCADA, can help with this. SCADA works by taking real-time data from a controller and presenting it to an operator. The operator can then use this information to react to alarms, control processes, and change settings.

This data is collected through field instruments and sent to the controller through communication networks. Field instruments and communication networks can vary from pipeline to pipeline. However, the most common field instruments in the pipeline industry are sensors, pumps, and valves. The most common communication network is a wireless network, but sometimes a combination of wired and wireless networks can also be employed.

Use of Satellites in Pipeline Operations

Often-times satellites will be used to help transmit data through the network. This is especially helpful when the pipeline is running through remote areas where it just isn’t possible to use existing towers to supply wireless connectivity.

Additionally, using in-house satellites ensures that the pipeline has full control over their network at all times. This helps to increase safety and makes the pipeline more self- sufficient.

Using Sensors for Pipeline Safety and Real-Time Response

Examples of sensors are proximity sensors, temperature sensors, and level sensors. The information captured by these sensors can be used to detect leaks and to set pump speeds. Controllers can use valves to shut down operations quickly if a problem was to arise.

Additionally, a SCADA can chart historical data and help with making future predictions. This allows companies, as well as government agencies, to determine how much energy is being used and how much production is needed to fulfill local demands.

The information collected is vital to ensuring the safety of the pipeline as well as the profitability of the pipeline. It also ensures that customers will always have a steady and reliable source of power.

Technological advancement in the instruments used to provide safety checks has also made pipelines much safer to operate. Sonar, as well as ultrasound technology, makes it easy to check for pipe corrosion, dents, cracks, and any other pipeline defects. This, in turn, makes it easy for pipeline companies to comply with all PHMSA safety regulations.

Drones and Aerial Data Visualization in Pipeline Maintenance and Operation

Drones and geographic information systems are also used during the maintenance and operational phases of a pipeline. They will continue to be used for slip protection and flood protection. Using drones in this manner ensures that potential slips can be dealt with long before they occur.

SolSpec is the industry leader and go-to partner for aerial analytics solutions to pipeline projects. We have been focused on helping pipeline construction projects and maintenance longer than any other drone company. We know how to provide pipeline construction companies and operators alike meet FERC and PHMSA regulations quickly and affordably.

Robotics in Pipeline Maintenance

According to Penn State University, robotics is also being used to help quickly detect and repair potential problem areas within the pipes as they begin to form. These robots are placed inside the pipes and are used to apply sealants to weak areas such as pipe joints. The advantage of this is that all of the repairs are happening inside of the pipe, meaning underground pipes do not need to be excavated before these repairs can be made.

4. How Technology Helps Record Keeping

Technology also helps with the process of reporting information from the pipeline company to both FERC and the PHMSA. PHMSA reports can easily be accessed over the Internet on their website at https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/forms/operator-reports-submitted-phmsa-forms-and-instructions. To report information to FERC, companies can create an online account at https://www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/ferconline.asp. Within this account, they can submit their documents electronically.

While this type of technological advancement might not be as exciting as the use of robots, it has revolutionized the way companies interact with these two organizations. Online filing and record keeping reduces the time and energy involved in complying with these two agencies and creates a more cooperative environment.

In Summary

A combination of online record keeping, advanced software systems, and the utilization of drones, robots, and inspection equipment has helped pipelines to meet both FERC and PHMSA regulations with ease. This has all helped to make the pipeline industry safer and more efficient than ever before.

For a more detailed look at one of these technologies, drone inspections, take a look at our article, Midstream Oil and Gas Drone Inspections Simplify Compliance (link here as soon as the article is posted), where we discuss use of drones for inspections in more detail, along with their many advantages.

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