Better Safety Through Technology

pipeline pig image

Pipeline operators inspect pipelines regularly in order to identify and treat symptoms long before they become a problem.  Most inspections of hazardous liquids pipelines are conducted by in-line inspection devices known as “smart pigs”.  These high-tech diagnostic devices travel through a pipeline gathering information without stopping flow of the product of a pipeline.  Smart pigs produce terabytes of data about a pipeline, intending to measure wall thickness and geometric shape, identify dents and microscopic cracks, and more. 

Then, pipeline operators conduct a physical evaluation of a segment of the tested pipeline in order to validate the results of the test, and use analytic software to review results and isolate potential issues for maintenance.  Operators next decide which pipeline features identified by the test should be addressed by physical inspection, based on federal regulations and a prioritization of the greatest risks.

In-line inspection devices use electromagnetic acoustic, magnetic flux, and other advanced technologies.  They are generally developed and owned by independent third-party inspection companies.  While in-line inspection technology has improved dramatically over the past few decades, pipeline operators want further improvements.  As one “smart pig” vendor described, today’s tools may have a 90 percent detection rate.  Pipeline operators tell “smart pig” companies about their needs, push these vendors to improve the technology, develop analytic tools to use when reviewing “smart pig inspection” reports, discuss with other companies best practices in integrating inspection data, and contribute millions of dollars each year into pipeline consortium work on shared pipeline technology goals. 

Other technologies are used in pipeline operations.  Advanced telecommunications and computer systems such as SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) continue to improve the monitoring and remote operation of the pipeline from control rooms.

Companies also employ a cathodic protection system to control the corrosion of steel by applying a small electrical current on the pipeline that inhibits corrosion.