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Safeguarding life, property, and the environment

Pipelines International speaks with Elisabeth Tørstad, CEO of DNV GL, about the company, her career, trends in the international pipeline industry, and her advice for those making their start in the sector.


Can you give us a brief background on the company’s formation, and on its current structure in terms of its pipeline-industry involvement?

DNV GL’s history stretches back to 1864, when Det Norske Veritas was founded to provide reliable and uniform classification of Norwegian ships. Our business has since grown and diversified into a broad range of industries. For example, we have been a technical advisor to the global oil and gas sector for more than 50 years.

DNV GL’s first significant involvement in the pipeline industry is marked by the publication of our first offshore pipeline rules in 1976. Our expertise and knowledge within pipelines has since been extended through work on some of the sector’s most challenging projects over the past four decades, as well as during numerous internal and external research and development (R&D) initiatives and joint-industry projects (JIPs). Our experiences and the results of our R&D initiatives have been used to develop the Offshore Standard DNV-OS-F101 for Submarine Pipeline Systems as well as a large number of associated Recommended Practices and software tools. The offshore pipeline standards are now celebrating 40 years and are used on the majority of today’s offshore pipelines.

We also have extensive onshore pipeline expertise, offering a full range of services and capabilities related to the selection, development, operation, and maintenance of onshore pipeline systems. Our services for pipelines in operation focus on improving reliability, integrity, and safety while still maintaining an acceptable cost level. This is particularly challenging during a time with significant changes in the market and we are often brought in to assess how a pipeline system can be optimised under new operating conditions or flow compositions. We also provide operations-related services at the early design phase.

Our efforts to manage our customers’ risk and pipeline integrity spans on- and offshore projects across the world. For example, we are contributing to enhanced pipeline safety by investigating around 70 per cent of onshore pipeline failures in North America, bringing the learnings from such incidents back to the industry to prevent similar incidents from occurring.

We have approximately 800 highly skilled experts working with pipeline-related projects around the world. DNV GL co-operates with the industry, for example, through the international Technical Pipeline Committee, comprising 30 leading companies, which discusses new challenges and trends in the offshore pipeline industry, as well as R&D needs.

Our work is supported by a global network of 18 laboratories and testing centres over three continents. These facilities bring together advanced testing with technical expertise and deep-seated knowledge about industry standards to help our pipeline customers apply technology safely, efficiently, and cost-effectively.

What are DNV GL’s core company values?

Our oil and gas experts are driven by our common purpose to safeguard life, property, and the environment, and we are brought together by five core values: we build trust and confidence; we never compromise on quality or integrity; we are committed to teamwork and innovation; we care for our customers and each other; and, we embrace change and deliver results.

These values underpin our curiosity for technical progress within the oil and gas industry. They support us in constantly developing knowledge and insights of the technical and operational business challenges our customers face. These drive us to innovate together with our customers, advancing technology to new levels, and enabling our customers to become safer, smarter, and greener.

What is the next area of growth for the company?

As our industry continues to face significant oil and gas over-supply, the mid- and downstream sectors are seeking new opportunities and challenges in connecting consumers with oil and gas from new production markets. What’s more, the market is becoming increasingly characterised by high volatility and trade of smaller volumes as well as new product qualities, including biofuel and hydrogen. We strive to support asset owners, operators, and authorities in ensuring the safe and reliable transportation of oil and gas in this new market reality. That is as a strategic growth area for us.

We believe that digital technology has a major role to play in securing safety and reliability in our sector, not to mention in increasing efficiency. The oil and gas industry is collecting vast amounts of data at an increasing rate. At DNV GL, our research and innovation efforts are focused on combining data analytics with our domain knowledge to provide customers with unprecedented levels of insight and foresight into their projects and operations.

By gathering more data from each pipeline by use of sensors, inspections, and other types of data such as weather data, ship traffic data, and so on – and applying big-data analytics – the industry will be able to predict and prevent failures. In this way we believe there is a strong link between digitalisation and improvements in reliability and availability of the transport systems provided by pipeline, both on- and offshore.

What initiatives does DNV GL provide for the skills and training of its workforce, and ensuring and developing their competencies?

The core of our value proposition to the market is our independence and technical expertise. We have many exceptional people in the organisation holding deep knowledge, some even being among the best in the world within their discipline: 85 per cent have a bachelor, master, or PhD degree.

We follow the 70:20:10 learning model, which has been identified as the most effective mix for learning, and in which 70 per cent comes from experience and practice of doing the job – so, for example, having the opportunity to work on different pipeline projects is an important way that we build our experts’ knowledge.

The model shows that 20 per cent is through interaction with other people – for example, networks, managers, and peers. This could include participating in joint-industry projects to stay at the forefront of new technology development, or through involvement in our extensive internal network of pipeline experts or external networks such as DNV GL’s Pipeline Committee. The final 10 per cent is from e-learning and classroom courses.

Our work culture is based on collaboration and sharing of knowledge. Mentoring is a central part of how we work, and we facilitate learning from colleagues around the globe. We offer several different mentoring programs in DNV GL, all designed for the participants to get advice and support from experienced managers and experts in order to develop skills and build networks in our organization. We run a global ‘knowledge-booster’ program, an extensive global training portfolio, and a global leadership-development program.

What pipeline joint-industry projects is the company currently involved in? What are the work-scopes and challenges involved?

R&D is at the core of DNV GL’s experience and knowledge and we spend 5 per cent of our revenue on R&D and innovation. Some of our R&D is made through internally funded R&D projects, and we also collaborate with the industry through JIPs.

For pipelines, we have recently completed 16 JIPs, 15 others are currently ongoing, and more than 20 are in various stage of initiation.

Examples of our current JIPs in the pipeline sector include a project to develop one harmonised onshore pipeline standard, simplification of the design process for pressure-protection systems, standardisation of flattened-strap tensile testing of linepipe, and safe transport of new gases at higher pressures in the existing infrastructure – among others. The outcome of these projects is typically a project guideline for the sponsors, and in some cases a Recommended Practice. Information about these projects is available from our website.

We are also increasingly promoting industry collaboration in our global network of 18 high-tech laboratories dedicated to testing, inspection and certification.


Where does DNV GL see major gains in safety can be made in terms of pipeline engineering and operation? How can these be reconciled with current cost-cutting?

The major causes of on- and offshore failures continue to include corrosion, cracking, and mechanical damage (such as anchors or fishing gear offshore, or heavy construction machines and human interference onshore). The potential exists to reduce failures by increasing the use of sensors in a smarter way. Data from these sensors could enable better forecasting of threats that change over time (for example, corrosion) and allow mitigation measures to be better targeted at the right failure mechanism. In addition, integrating this data with management systems (such as risk, safety, and quality), would allow systematic improvement with respect to both efficiency and effectiveness.

A recent example of improved management systems is a project co-funded by DNV GL and the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in the US to develop a framework and guidance for a quality-management system (QMS) for new pipeline construction. While there are up-front costs associated with the development of a QMS, long-term cost savings can be realised through the reduction of failures and rework.

What future challenges or trends do you see for the pipeline industry?

Key technical challenges come from long tie-backs with high-temperature, high-pressure (HTHP) conditions, and hydrate challenges. Here we are helping the industry to find new concepts and alternative solutions to what we have today. For example, we recently completed a JIP to develop a Recommended Practice for use of thermoplastic composite pipes: they do not corrode like steel pipes, and can be used in the deepest waters and at elevated temperatures.

When it comes to trends, DNV GL’s Technology Outlook 2025 reports that monitoring of on- and offshore pipelines is expected to increase, and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) performing regular pipeline inspection will provide a more-efficient approach than using remote-operated underwater vehicles (ROVs). AUVs will be equipped with sonars, cameras, and sensors to ‘sniff’ for a leakage of methane or oil. For onshore pipelines, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will be used: using drones for onshore pipeline inspection is already a reality; so is the use of sniffers, of course.

Can you see a time when an operator will be able to have a one-stop-shop for all its pipeline-integrity needs?

We think it will be long time before anyone will be able to provide all the required services that a pipeline operator would need to operate, maintain, and repair its pipelines, and we are not sure that this would be desirable. We know that pipeline operation and maintenance needs not only engineering support, but also intelligent pigging, survey vessels for offshore, repair systems, etc., just to mention some areas that it is unlikely that one company could provide together with all other services.

Of course there will be service providers that will be able to provide a big part of the required services, especially engineering services, and DNV GL is such a company. We are already the main service provider for several pipeline operating companies. Our experts and services cover the majority of our customers’ needs regarding pipeline operation, including inspection, technical advisory on maintenance and integrity management, process modelling, materials, welding, repair, environment, and risk. We also use our world-class laboratory capabilities to do testing (NDT, for example), incident investigation, and innovation.

Some of our clients find it advantageous to have one main engineering service provider that knows their assets, their philosophies and needs, and can help and support them with their daily operations and provide additional service at short notice, if and when needed.

Do you agree that knowledge sharing and industry training are critically important for the continued success of the global pipeline industry? Why?

Competence development and training are vital in DNV GL and for the industry at large to meet the challenges of deeper, harsher, and more-remote environments and rising operating costs. I would also add that innovation is critical too for the continued success of the global pipeline industry.

Our pipeline committee and our JIPs are examples of the value of collaboration and of sharing insights and experience. Coming together in neutral forums like this, without the context of contract negotiations and competitive elements, brings the industry forward.

DNV GL is well-known for its highly regarded pipeline design and operational standards. What do you see as the benefits of such standards, and how can this message be best promulgated?

Industry standards enable innovation, increase predictability for the supply chain, and reduce lead-times while safely reducing costs.

Our offshore pipeline standard is the only code that is based on limit-state design, where specific failure modes are addressed and where there is full transparency of how safety factors and design criteria are built-up. This allows for flexibility and for a design that is tailor-made to the individual project but still predictable for manufacturers, etc. We have numerous examples of where wall thickness could be safely reduced when our standard is being used, resulting in significant savings.

How do you see R&D being funded in the future?

There is heightened interest in collaborative innovation and co-creation in our markets, driven in part by the growing interconnectedness of industries and businesses, but also by the accelerating pace and complexity of technology development and the difficulty of funding research in a slowing world economy. Working with others is the ‘red thread’ connecting many of our strategic projects.


How did you start in the industry?

I have had more than 15 years in management positions in DNV GL. Prior to becoming CEO, I was CTO, and before that I was Chief Operating Officer for our Americas and Sub-Saharan Africa Division.

I have worked for more than 20 years in DNV GL, working across all our core industries, focusing on bringing learning across industries and global markets. I also had many years as manager or project manager for units covering deepwater technology, pipelines, laboratories and materials technology.

I also gained significant experience in failure investigations, and I have a passion for learning from accidents and implementing this learning in the industry, resulting in me also initiating and leading numerous research projects and JIPs.

I also headed-up our Pipeline Committee for several years, and truly enjoyed the collaboration with this industry.

What has been the best, most challenging or most rewarding pipeline project with which you have been involved?

I was involved in the development and industry implementation of DNV OS F-101 Offshore Standard for Submarine Pipelines which has now become the preferred industry standard and also DNV OS F-201 Offshore Standard for Metallic Risers.

These were highly rewarding projects, as were the JIPs where we paved the way for use of titanium and composite materials for risers.

But the most challenging projects have all been failure investigations, both in terms of the investigatory work that is undertaken to fully reveal and understand the root cause, but also as we have striven to determine parameters and processes for safe operations after accidents.

What is your favourite aspect of working in this industry?

What gets me up in the morning is my passion for supporting our customers in ensuring safe and reliable operations.

Do you have any specific advice for those just beginning their careers in the pipeline industry?

Be curious: there are many different aspects and disciplines to dive into – try to get a broad overview of different phases and aspects. Build a network, and enjoy the expertise and experience of your friends and industry colleagues.

Treat everyone with respect and trust, and make sure you offer your insights and support when needed.

This is not a huge industry and you will enjoy good relationships for a lifetime when you treat people well, and the opposite if you don’t.

For more information visit the DNV GL website.

This article was featured in the September edition of Pipelines International. To view the magazine on your PC, Mac, tablet, or mobile device, click here.

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