Being prepared holds key to rapid response

OE Staff
Thursday, March 4, 2010

To share industry knowledge concerning the latest developments in emergency preparedness for subsea pipelines, TDW Offshore Services AS hosted its first pipeline conference in Stavanger, Norway. OE reviews some of the key issues and talking points.

Innovative ways that technology can help pipeline operators prepare themselves to respond effectively when the unexpected happens to their subsea lines were spotlighted during the TDW Offshore Services client conference. Special emphasis was placed on how pipeline downtime can be reduced when making critical repairs or conducting planned maintenance and inspection services.

 
Following subsea pipeline incidents in the North Sea and extreme weather in the Gulf of Mexico, pipeline operators are increasingly embracing Emergency Pipeline Repair Systems (EPRS) as part of their standard emergency response contingency programs. ‘Today we’re seeing a shift in attitude about EPRS from one of “available alternative” to that of an “essential component” of pipeline project concept development and front end engineering and design,’ said TDW Offshore Services vice president Jon Major. ‘Fortunately, the pipeline technology featured in these solutions is focused on helping pipeline operators to respond more quickly so that they can more readily remedy an emergency situation. This reduces downtime, which benefits all concerned,’ he added.

The importance of preparing for potential subsea pipeline disruption as a part of prudent operations contingency planning was highlighted by Major. ‘It’s no longer a nice “to do”, it’s a “must do” as shareholders, stakeholders and the insurance industry are taking a much harder look at how potential risks and interruptions can be effectively mitigated through an EPRS strategy,’ he said.

Between hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and anchor snags in the North Sea and elsewhere, being unprepared has taken a toll on several pipeline operators during the past few years. In many cases, production downtime has gone on for several months. When a pipeline operates at a billion cubic feet per day of gas throughput, and it’s down for even a day longer than planned, that is a significant loss to all stakeholders. Plus, it’s a major interruption to business, affecting upstream and downstream customers.

According to Major, understanding and planning ahead for the potential risks to subsea pipelines is ‘knowable’. In other words, by making reasonable assumptions, operating prudently, and assessing the top three risks through engineering study and gap analysis, a pipeline operator can develop an effective emergency preparedness for subsea pipelines – EPRS – response plan.

Major pointed out that the two most important elements of an EPRS response plan are first, scenario planning, engineering and procedure development, and second, procurement of critical EPRS kit components specific to the pipeline operator’s assets. Each of these elements enhances response time and reduces downtime.

‘Being unprepared can be up to five times more costly to the operator in real costs when the dust settles following an emergency, and that doesn’t include loss of production or business interruption costs,’ said Major, adding that case studies presented at the conference supported this point. ‘Basically, it’s about thinking ahead, engaging the right service and solution providers ahead of time, and working collaboratively to develop an effective EPRS program. The time to buy insurance isn’t after the fire,’ he declared.

Low pressure isolations
To share news of its work in the area of low pressure isolations, TDW Offshore Services UK sales manager Gordon Blair presented a case study titled Developments in low pressure isolations for emergency repair.

TDW uses its SmartTrack system to enhance performance of high friction pigs (HFP) to carry out pipeline isolation operations on pipelines with low delta pressures of up to 5 bar. Each HFP is custom-designed to operate within the specific conditions of the pipeline targeted for isolation. It is then fully function-tested prior to deployment to make certain that it will operate as planned with the required operating characteristics. With its ability to negotiate geometry posed by dents or a damaged area that isn’t passable with a plug, the HFP is ideal for use when isolating a low pressure pipeline, noted Blair.

‘What makes the HFP unique is that we can pinpoint its exact position within the pipeline, and monitor the pressure across the HFP train through the pipe wall,’ said Blair. ‘The ability to monitor the condition of the isolation in real time is critical, particularly when divers are working in the water. Our solution was tested by the divers that would be using the system during the hazard identification process and then proven in the field. Safety is improved, and the overall efficiency of the isolation and repair operation is considerably enhanced,’ Blair added. Recently, TDW carried out a successful low pressure isolation with HFPs as part of a riser change-out operation in the North Sea.

Raising awareness
For TDW, the conference proved to be a significant event in the process of raising awareness of emergency preparedness and highlighting developments in the technologies available to create an effective EPRS.

More than 50 guests from the oil and gas industry attended the two-day conference at the Stavanger Chamber of Commerce. Day one consisted of a series of seminars on topics ranging from emergency preparedness for subsea pipelines and case studies about recent incident responses to the latest innovations in pipeline products and benefits of using hot tap technology for subsea interventions. On-hand to present were representatives from Saipem and Acergy, along with senior managers from TDW Offshore Services’ corporate headquarters in Stavanger and Aberdeen, as well as parent company TD Williamson in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Following the presentations, guests were taken on a tour of TDW’s facilities, where they viewed live demonstrations and examined the latest advances in pipeline technology, advances that serve as critical specialist tools in an EPRS tool box. TDW Offshore Services’ core business is providing the products and services needed to maintain, repair, isolate, and bypass pipelines. The company’s innovations include a wide range of customized repair clamps and pipeline recovery tools (PRTs) installable by ROV and the field-leading SmartPlug pipeline pressure isolation tool, now improved to enable passage through a 10-12% dent.

On day two of the conference, guests toured Statoil’s Pipeline Repair System (PRS) facility at Killingoy, in nearby Haugesund, and heard presentations by Statoil personnel about recent deployments of its PRS capabilities. The operator has invested a great deal of time and money in preparing itself and its partners to have the right tools for the ‘EPRS job’ for its pipeline assets in the North Sea. Lengthy interruption to any one of the major gas trunklines feeding the UK, Germany or Norway has major implications.

‘Statoil has equipped and prepared itself extremely well,’ said Major. ‘The opportunity to view Statoil’s entire PRS base and collection of specialized subsea pipeline repair and handling tools, and to meet the people that operate them, was a real eye opener for the guests,’ he added. ‘The operation is very impressive, and illustrates the seriousness of Statoil’s commitment to EPRS.’

Looking ahead
‘As this was the first technical conference that TDW Offshore Services has hosted in Norway, we are extremely pleased with the fact that client representatives from so many major operators and key service companies chose to attend,’ said Mark Sim, regional general manager – North Europe for TD Williamson. ‘We are confident that the discussions that took place helped to share EPRS perspectives and knowledge, and will move many more subsea pipeline operating companies to adopt or improve upon their existing emergency preparedness plans and systems,’ he added. ‘They gained valuable insights about EPRS that they could not have gained access to elsewhere.’

Keen to build on the success of this inaugural event – 100% of the guests responding to a post-conference survey indicated they would highly recommend that colleagues attend – TDW is already in discussions with companies about hosting another conference later this year featuring speakers from a wider range of organizations.

‘As emergency preparedness takes its place as one of the cornerstones of an effective pipeline project plan, the industry can only benefit by learning from one another,’ said Sim. OE

Categories: North America Europe Maintenance Pipelines

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