A modern and efficient oil and gas infrastructure will be critical in meeting rising demand for product. Bjørn Jalving, VP of Kongsberg Maritime’s AUV department, explains the important role of pipeline integrity in improving infrastructure.
“There will be an increasing interest in automated technology for inspection of subsea installations and pipelines, as oil production moves into deeper water ”
-Bjørn Jalving, Kongsberg
O&G. How are new technology and techniques providing the opportunity for more efficient detection and risk-management activities to ensure the integrity of pipelines?
BJ. Large variations in pipelines, water depths and environments make pipeline integrity management a complex area. Solutions for pipeline integrity monitoring include measurement of flow parameters with associated simulation and expert systems, inside inspection tools, sensors on the pipeline and external inspection tools.
The two main methods for outside inspection of pipelines are towfish equipped with side scan sonars (acoustic inspection) and remotely operated vehicles (ROV) equipped with cameras (visual inspection). The m ain objectives for external pipeline inspection is to determine position, estimate changes in stress due to bends, determine change in protective covering due to water action, detect damage due to human action, for example, trawling, and detect leakage at an early stage.
With the exception of inspection of buried pipelines, use of ROV and towfish are proven techniques. Rather than replacing established methods, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) can complement the pipeline inspection toolbox. AUVs provide a stable sensor platform with high data quality. Compared to ROV, an AUV surveys at higher speed and comes with a relatively small footprint that does not require a dedicated support vessel. In a dual AUV-ROV operation, one can foresee the AUV autonomously tracking the pipeline identifying critical areas for closer inspection with the ROV.
High-quality visual camera solutions with low-power LED lighting, is available for AUVs. Prospects of applying synthetic aperture sonars and bottom penetrating sonars to pipeline inspection are promising. AUVs can also be equipped with sensors for leakage detection, and pollution and environmental surveillance.
In shallow and coastal waters, smaller AUVs will make a contribution due to easy handling. In deeper and more remote areas, larger AUVs with more capable sensors and longer endurance are required as a key point is to make operation of the complete system of surface asset and AUV cost efficient.
O&G. What influence have increasing regulatory, public and environmental pressures had on the way pipelines are managed? Why is this an increasing concern for operators?
BJ. The plans of moving oil and gas into new areas, for instance the arctic and areas important to marine life and fishery, meet resistance. For oil companies and pipeline owners looking to pursue oil and gas exploration in these vulnerable areas, it will be important to keep a clean track record. It will be extremely difficult for the political decision makers to allow oil companies into these vulnerable areas if the general public does not trust them.
O&G. What recommendations would you make to companies looking to improve their pipeline integrity management programs, and where does your company fit into the picture?
BJ. AUVs can help pipeline owners perform more efficient pipeline inspections at reduced cost. Also interesting is the prospect of AUVs providing new and higher quality data products. Kongsberg Maritime will typically sell its AUV products to inspection service providers that run contracts towards pipeline operators.
O&G. How do you see this sector developing over the next five to 10 years?
BJ. There will be an increasing interest in automated technology for inspection of subsea installations and pipelines, as oil production moves into deeper water. Many oil companies are investing heavily in deepwater technology. At the same time they are looking at how the inspection budgets for the deepwater fields can be reduced, while ensuring the same level of security.
An interesting prospect is deployment of AUVs either on floating production units or in docking stations in subsea production fields. Benefits will be an always present and ready inspection capability, allowing for both planned inspections and rapid inspections in case of emergencies. Especially in remote areas and under ice, mobilization time and cost will be greatly reduced.