A consortium has been established to tackle the challenge of the non-destructive testing (NDT) of corroded pipes under insulation and engineered temporary pipe wraps in the North Sea.
The group – which includes TRAC Oil & Gas, the University of Strathclyde, and the Scottish Innovation Centre for Sensor and Imaging Systems (CENSIS) – will methodically audit the tools, capabilities, and approaches currently used by the industry to look at the steel surfaces of assets that are often obstructed by layers of material.
While there are a number of NDT technologies on the market, many are ineffective when used on pipes that are protected by insulation.
They tend to average out wall thickness where corrosion ‘scabs’ have formed, failing to pinpoint specific areas of vulnerability.
Taking and interpreting these readings is further complicated by the varying dimensions, materials, locations, and accessibility of different oil and gas assets.
While insulation can be removed, it requires significantly more time in challenging conditions, making the task more dangerous to the technician undertaking the inspection, and ultimately more expensive to the company.
After assessing the limits of what is available, the consortium will then explore how improvements can be made, including the development of new techniques for accurately identifying and measuring areas of corrosion.
“Inspection is becoming more important as the UK Continental Shelf continues to mature – estimates suggest that a high proportion of assets are approaching or, indeed, have exceeded their original design life,” TRAC Oil & Gas Technical Manager Bill Brown said.
“We’re at the point now where, against the backdrop of a sustained low oil price, if a platform has to shut down for maintenance, it may never start producing again.
“We, therefore, need as much accurate data as possible to make informed decisions.
“By taking regular readings on an asset’s condition, we can determine whether they are fit for purpose and operations can keep oil flowing, all within as safe an environment as possible.
“To do this effectively, we need to take stock of all the technology available, verifying its capabilities and limitations.
“From there, we’ll be able to look at potential new methods for inspecting the integrity of assets, using non-destructive techniques.”
Dr Gordon Dobie from the University of Strathclyde’s Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering added, “Decades of oil, gas, water, and chemicals passing through pipes has taken its toll on a range of assets, requiring regular inspection and increasing the importance of the data we get back from tests.
“Despite a greater need than ever before for accurate inspection and condition monitoring technologies, minimal funding is available for maintenance of infrastructure.
“Working with TRAC’s team, we’re examining what companies currently do to measure wall thickness, repeating it in the lab on specimens, and trying to develop a standardised approach to getting more accurate information from NDT.
“We’re validating what the instrumentation is saying about the thickness of walls with a view to filling a real and significant gap in the technology already available.”
CENSIS brokered the relationship between TRAC and the University of Strathclyde, and will provide project management support as the initiative progresses.
Speaking on the challenges facing the consortium, CENSIS Business Development Manager Rachael Wakefield said, “Being able to accurately analyse corrosion under insulation is the holy grail of NDT.
“We’ve already learned a great deal from working with TRAC about the technical and economic challenges facing the industry.
“This project demonstrates that there’s a real opportunity for oil and gas companies to enhance their offering and tackle some of the biggest problems facing the industry – not only in the North Sea, but across the globe.”
For more information visit the CENSIS website.
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