The Bar has been Raised
Pipelines operate within the living space and under the watchful eye of both the public and the regulatory agencies. Operating these pipelines in a responsible and safe manner is more and more becoming the essential element of the social contract under which the pipeline industry is permitted to conduct business.
Over the past several years the public's safety expectations and demands have stepped up to a new level. Repair and maintenance programs have been greatly intensified. Inspections and inspection technologies have grown as well as better measurement, monitoring, and communications. Along with these advances, leak detection technologies have also burgeoned. No matter how careful and well designed a pipeline may be, a potential for leaks will always exist. To responsibly address this potential, systems and plans must be in place to detect and aid in the response to a leak, should one occur. From the vast assortment of technologies available, today's pipeline company must piece together a working family of techniques, operating practices, and business policies that can provide effective, real, and sustainable protection.
Leak Detection cannot be addressed by simply throwing money at the problem. There is not a nice hierarchy of function and functionality. API 1130 states that "Each CPM [Computational Pipeline Monitoring] method has its strengths and limitations" and "No one technology has been proven suitable for all pipeline applications. Multiple CPM systems may be employed to provide a CPM that can more broadly cover the pipeline operating conditions." The technology selected must be tailored to the particulars of the pipeline being protected. There are times when a simple pressure trend will provide better protection than a full scale real-time transient hydraulic simulator. In short, the solution must fit the problem. Pipeline leaks never occur at corporate headquarters or in the engineering offices. They occur in the field, under operating conditions, and involve staff that have additional responsibilities. The field is sometimes sensitive about having technology solutions forced on them that they may not fully endorse. The field may also have keener insights into pitfalls and challenges that should be well considered before implementing a solution strategy. The challenge of implementing a viable leak detection system, then, is to merge the management skills of the corporate office, the technical skills of the engineer, and the practical hands-on work experience of the field.
A technical solution and approach cannot be dictated. The "Enlightened Despot" of the engineering or IT group may indeed be able to specify a theoretically correct solution. However, a commonly derived solution will be easier to implement and more successful in the end. The technology cannot be ignored, certainly. The various capabilities and liabilities of each technology must be considered. It is just that this technical wisdom must be imparted, somehow, in a practical manner, to an open decision making forum. All of the shareholders in the organization must come together, and together forge a workable solution.