Using technology to enhance integrity digs

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Maintaining the Trans Mountain Pipeline as a safe, secure and environmentally responsible operation is a full-time commitment. Kinder Morgan Canada’s Pipeline Maintenance and Repair Program operates 365 days a year.

Three years ago, KMC decided it wanted a one-stop database where people in every section of the company could share knowledge and information about the pipeline. Data would range from the precise location and serial number of a repair sleeve on an underground section of pipe to local knowledge for protecting an environmental feature along the right-of-way. You’d use it to review precise details of an integrity dig or retrieve contact information for a landowner.

However, there was no commercial software product that could encompass all of the company’s requirements. So the KMC information technology (IT) department built one itself. Three years later, the KMC ‘Dig Program Management System’ is a helpful tool for a wide range of departments. It serves as a store of information about integrity digs and other activity — and continues to evolve.

We recently caught up with KMC Engineering Technologist Alex Beltran, Celina Curtis, Technical Services and Engineering, and Jason Chan, Business/Systems Analyst to learn more about the system and its value to the company.

What’s an integrity dig?

Integrity digs are carried out in compliance with the requirements of our regulator, the National Energy Board. Public safety and protection of the environment are the priorities. The program ensures the pipeline will continue to do its job safely. We initiate integrity digs after running an in-line inspection tool through the pipeline. The tools, sometimes called smart pigs, are barrel shaped and built to travel inside the pipe. They’re loaded with high tech sensors that scan for features such as a patch of irregular surface on the inside or the outside of the pipe or even within the pipeline wall. If the tool reports a feature that warrants a visual inspection, we follow up with an integrity dig.  It involves exposing a buried section of our pipeline in order to carry out a visual inspection and if necessary, make a repair. Some features might require a repair sleeve to be installed while others are simply recoated. When the work is complete, the pipeline is carefully reburied and the surface is restored to as-good or better condition.

In a given year, how many days/weeks does Kinder Morgan devote to this work?

We are proactive about pipeline inspection. Integrity digs are part of the Pipeline Maintenance and Repair program that Kinder Morgan carries out 365 days a year. In-line inspection tool runs are just one of the ways we monitor and maintain the integrity of our pipeline. An integrity dig can also result from information gathered via aerial patrols, cathodic protection surveys, natural hazard surveys, First Calls and from concerns reported by landowners or passers-by.

Why did you choose to build your own software to track digging programs?

We wanted to integrate information that was dispersed across many departments. There was no single commercially available system that could pull everything together the way we wanted. Another reason is we wanted a system that would be dynamic, something we can alter and enhance in response to business changes. There’s a strong working relationship between the business areas and information technology (IT). That has enabled us to refine and optimize our system — and our underlying business processes as we continue to develop the application.

What are some of your field staff telling you about the new system?

Feedback has been very positive. The comments are mostly about how easy it is to use (there are really only two main screens — a search screen and a results screen) and how it brings together all the information they need into one place. It’s a real self-serve one-stop shop.

What’s unique about the system?

By pulling together information from accounting, project control, land, asset maintenance and other sections we get a complete and comprehensive overview of the dig program. The available data positions us to quickly analyze and make decisions.

Why is it important to keep track of these digs?

An integrity dig is not an isolated event. A tracking system is very important for current and subsequent integrity digs. For example, the health, safety and environment department can add comments for a specific dig site — and field maintenance crews can review them.

The Integrity Department can flag a location and more easily see trends in a given area. Over time, the program will tell us which repair methods and materials were used at specific dig sites.

The geographic information systems (GIS) department can more easily update pipeline inspection and repair databases, pipeline characteristics on those specific locations and the location of every single dig site with detailed information related to that site — contact information for a landowner, soil type, crossings, depth of cover and so on.

From an environmental perspective, it becomes easier to track environmental factors, remediation and reclamation at each excavated site.

How much work was involved in setting up your own system?

The Dig Program Management System has evolved over the course of three years. Rather than being developed in a short time frame with a large team, it has grown through the ongoing incremental efforts of a small and talented group of people from both IT and the business areas. It is very much an agile, continuous improvement approach that we see continuing.

Can you give an example of some of the advantages?

As word of the program has spread through the company, other employees and departments have been able to access information that previously either came from phone calls or through hours of work compiling data from individual sheets of paper. For example, our Operations team in Kamloops is now able to be notified when and where a repair sleeve has been installed as soon as the paperwork is complete, allowing them to track by serial number.

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