Back at the beginning of last year, our calendars were packed with inspection dates. Then the global pandemic hit, and everything basically came to a halt. Since then, we have seen a strong response in the ramping up of local safety measures, making face-to-face customer correspondence and the execution of our work difficult.
However, thanks to our innovative thinking, we were able to restart many projects and execute the postponed work within our EU region. In fact, we have implemented a remote support model to be able to carry out inspections without our experts having to be on site. In this case, we remotely inspected an 8-inch condensate export pipeline for a South African client in close collaboration with our local representation.
After the summer, the virus manifested itself again, and governments responded with new measures and safety precautions. Although we have somehow gotten used to this unusual situation, we continuously need to stay in close contact with our customers to help them through this difficult time. Together we search for solutions to the problems we face, as in the case of a client in South Africa.
BACKGROUND ON THE INSPECTION
Operated by PetroSA, the FA Platform is located approximately 90 kilometers off the southern coast of South Africa, in the Bredasdorp Basin. Several gas and condensate producing wells are tied to this platform, where a mixture of gas and condensate as well as other production fluids are separated. From here, the gas and condensate are then sent to an onshore gas-to-liquid refinery in Mossel Bay via 18” and 8” export pipelines, respectively.
PetroSA had planned to carry out an intelligent pigging of the 8-inch condensate export pipeline to evaluate its integrity with nitrogen gas in support with product. Prior to the intelligent pigging exercise, a pre-cleaning of the pipeline was also requested. In July 2018, ROSEN presented its proposal, and the contract was awarded in June 2019.
The line had previously been inspected by ROSEN in 2004 with standard axial Magnetic Flux Leakage (MFL-A) tool. Over the years, the gas field’s production dropped to an average speed of 0.05m/s (gas/condensate mixture) with low pressure. To accommodate the required inspection running conditions, it was therefore required to use an extra propellant medium to increase the speed (flow) and pressure.
Several discussions with the client took place. It was proposed to use seawater in combination with the on-site firefighting sets to provide the required drive for the tools. However, the client wanted to avoid a drying campaign for the line after inspection, as this requires a longer shutdown time for the power plant. An inspection with nitrogen gas was therefore determined to be the most suitable solution.
OUR SUGGESTED SOLUTION
Our team looked for the best tool solution, which seemed to be an MFL-A selection based on a low-flow/low-pressure setup. During the kick-off meeting with the client, PetroSA and our South African agent Ultraspec-NDT, it was agreed to use a minimum inspection speed of 0.35m/s and a minimum pressure at the receiver of 5.5 MPa to control discharge pressure and to prevent unwanted tool stops for the in-line inspection.
Figure 2 – MFL-A low-pressure/low-flow setup
For the cleaning part of this project, it was decided to run the tools during normal line operation, as this approach would not interfere with gas supply levels. At a speed of 0.05 m/s, the run time was calculated to be 21 days. The MFL-A tool only needed to be in the country once the cleaning campaign was finished, together with the nitrogen pump equipment.
During the planning phase, ROSEN discussed with the client whether they could handle the flows and pressures. It became clear that the pressure requirements at the receiver side were limited to a maximum of 1.2 MPa. This was because process equipment had a high-level pressure emergency shutdown, which could not be manually overridden. After review, ROSEN accepted this backpressure limitation, as long as a stable flow regime could be guaranteed within liquid condensate pockets both in front of and behind the tool. These were to act as hydraulic dampers to prevent unwanted start/stop behavior.
SITUATION IN MARCH 2020
Finally, after a year and a half of planning, meetings and delays, the inspection could commence. This specific offshore inspection for our South African customer was scheduled for March 2020, right at the beginning of the global pandemic. More and more countries were closing their borders and had to face local lockdowns, which made it impossible for us to fly in field engineers to perform the inspection on-site. Fortunately, ROSEN has been represented in South Africa by Ultraspec-NDT since July 2008. Thanks to close collaboration between the two companies and with the help of local engineers, we were able perform the inspection after all.
The two Ultraspec-NDT engineers located in South Africa are trained on running ROSEN’s tool hardware, but they are not trained on using our software. However, we solved this issue by having a ROSEN field engineer from our Dutch office in Oldenzaal operate the equipment remotely via the internet.
Within a week, we sent a special laptop to South Africa and granted the local engineers access to the ROSEN network and computer. After a few tests, all parties involved were ready to perform the inspection. All of this was done in close cooperation and after the approval of our client.
Two mobile phones were required for stable remote operation. One was needed to connect to the laptop and for the remote connection, the other for general communication and video support via Skype. This allowed us to directly check the engineers’ handling when installing the batteries and mechanically checking the tool.
LAUNCHING THE TOOL
After checking all the connections, the MFL-A tool was mobilized to the site. We reported no operational issues, neither during the launching and receiving nor during the downloading of the data and checking. The client appreciated the smooth-running operation.
The benefits of our remote support included:
- Local engineers, meaning no visas required
- Cost savings on travel and lodging
- Flexible personnel planning
- Perform inspection in difficult situations like the COVID-19 pandemic, when countries are in lockdown and do not allow anyone to enter in order to perform inspections but still allow equipment to enter. Operations can continue as originally scheduled.
In close collaboration with our client and our local partner, we managed to perform the inspection via remote support. Certainly, this approach will become even more relevant for our business in the future. Together, we can get it done!