In a nutshell:
633 miles, 1,019 kilometers, 550 nautical miles – that’s looong. That’s the length of a pipeline that needed to be inspected, requiring a single tool that could handle a very long trip. Not just that, but a tool that could reliably detect and size cracking, measure wall thickness and provide a geometry inspection. Crude oil buildup, battery life and data storage are among the challenges faced when developing a solution, an in-line inspection tool that could inspect a monster like this one. It would take five million barrels of crude oil to carry this tool along a span of 633 miles from the launcher to the receiver; it would need to be equipped with extended battery life to last up to 40 days in the pipe, AND it had to hold up to an estimated 33 terabytes of raw input data. Processing that amount of data is a feat on its own!
The inspection goals seemed simple: wall thickness loss measurement, crack-like detection, and geometry and mapping of this seemingly endless pipeline. What could do this? Along came the creation of a MEGA tool equipped with two technologies (Shearwave Ultrasound and Ultrasound for wall measurement) and an odometer system, one pull unit, two battery segments and two transmitters – one at the front, the other at the rear of the tool. The measurement units themselves were equipped with more than 1,400 sensors to ensure coverage for the entire pipe circumference. This configuration allowed for an inspection range of 1,100 km (~ 683 miles) and a maximum inspection duration of 1,006 hours. Just enough to cover the entire length of the pipeline. But why was there even a need for a tool to travel the entire distance? The alternative would have been to inspect the pipeline in segments, which would have implied the installation of multiple temporary launchers and receivers – a significant disruption in the operation of the asset – and would have meant a much longer inspection period. Therefore, a tool that could go the whole distance was the answer.
A new configuration like this needs to be tested and validated. With various testing methods available, pump tests were considered the most effective in this case. This meant recreating a pipeline sample in a test yard (at the ROSEN Technology and Research Centre in Germany) that featured various artificial defects and simulating a tool run to check factors such as bend capacity and minimum internal diameter (ID) passage. In total, the extensive procedure consisted of eight tests. Naturally, we did not build a 1,000-km-long pipeline in our backyard. In order to test other variables such as battery life, data recording and data storage capabilities, we conducted so called “long duration” tests in which the tool essentially “ran” (although stationary) for long periods of time.
After a year and a half of planning, developing and testing, it was finally time to do the actual work! The in-line inspection would be preceded by a series of cleaning runs to ensure high-quality data recording was possible. In addition, the geometry inspection was conducted, completing the required pipeline mapping using extended caliper technology and ensuring safe passage for the infamous Mega-tool to follow. Finally, weighing in at 5,100 kg (11,244 lbs), the UT wall measurement and crack detection tool could be launched. Lifted and loaded by a 60-ton crane, it embarked on its lengthy journey through the U.S. countryside. Active tool tracking provided ever-building excitement among operators as the tool came closer and closer to its destination. Thirty-five days later, it arrived at the receiver – STILL ON – and having recorded 633 miles of data.
All in all
When all was said and done – when the weight of the tool was lifted from the receiver and pipeline professionals around the world could take a breath – this lengthy journey through the 633-mile pipeline came to an end, having collected terabytes of valuable data. The necessary data checks were completed, and the data evaluation is still ongoing.