A recent Lockheed Martin report explores technologies and techniques which could aid future asset integrity operations
From NASA equipment to canine corrosion detection, a new report by Lockheed Martin has left no stone unturned in its search for technologies which should be considered to help the oil and gas industry tackle the thorny issue of asset integrity.
The Asset Integrity Landscape Study, commissioned by the UK Technology Leadership Board, Oil & Gas UK, the Oil & Gas Authority, Oil & Gas Innovation Centre (OGIC) and the Industry Technology Facilitator (ITF), evaluates the needs of operators, current state-of-the-art technologies and trends in other sectors in order to analyse which ones could have the greatest impact. At the time of the , OGIC chief executive Ian Phillips commented: “The study is the first step in a project which will propose the adoption of new technologies, technologies from other industry sectors and the development of working methods where services can be combined in a logical, quicker and therefore cheaper manner. It will also propose the introduction of new products and services to lower costs and/or improve safety.”
Lockheed Martin UK’s head of business development, Neal Stidolph, recently presented the company’s initial conclusions at an OGIC stakeholder event and at the ITF Technology Showcase. He outlined the group’s findings on the current state-of-the-art for corrosion under insulation (CUI) and vessel inspection, as well as some left-field technologies which could play a role in future operations. These are each assessed via a spider graph, charting technology readiness level (TRL), benefits, applications, cost and risks.
In introducing Lockheed’s analysis Stidolph’s first point was to create a triage procedure covering how the industry should examine the status of assets. By dividing them into three categories – “will die,” “might die” and “will live” – it can prioritise those that need the most urgent attention. These cases are where further inspection and/or repair and maintenance will have the greatest impact.
Looking at the prevention and detection of CUI, Stidolph assessed a number of potential solutions by their strength and readiness for deployment. Pulsed eddy current (PEC) – an electromagnetic technique which uses fluctuations in voltage to look for cracks and corrosion – was a front-runner, owing to its high impact and the fact that it is widely available. But lesser-known inspection techniques such as real-time radiography should also be of interest, as should microwave sensing, though the latter remains a medium-term option rather than an immediately deployable one.
Further down the readiness scale but of immediate interest are more esoteric solutions. Sacrificial wire may seem like an outdated approach to prevention, but Lockheed believes that its low cost and ease of deployment could make it a solid solution. On the other hand, available products such as vapour-phase corrosion inhibitors (VCIs) – gaseous chemicals which offer long-term protection without an actual coating, by depositing a chemical film – are easy to get hold of, but in many cases suffer from a lack of trust within industry.
Man’s best friend may have a role to play. Already a vital part of detection in military and security operations, sniffer dogs may be able to help oil and gas too. Backed by Statoil and Gassco, the Fjellanger Detection & Training Academy ran a project in 2013 which proved under double-blind conditions that trained sniffer dogs could successfully detect instances of CUI. Combining the results from multiple dog inspections then allowed engineers to categorise areas of high and low priorities, and rule out areas where no corrosion was suspected. However, that approach is unlikely to work everywhere –Stidolph pointed out that one might struggle to take dog teams offshore.
In process vessel inspections, far fewer techniques are at a stage of ready deployment. Though enabling platforms such as ROVs and AUVs have come on leaps and bounds in the past few years, the industry will probably still need a number of different types of vehicles to carry out thorough inspections – most of these are not yet capable of the delicate inspection or hazard avoidance that human operators offer; correspondingly, neither are many inspection techniques at the stage at which they could be automated.
According to Lockheed, beyond these larger platforms the greatest technical priorities look to be phased array ultrasonic and low-frequency electromagnetic techniques.
Terahertz spectral imaging, for example – a technique which uses the spectrum between microwaves and infrared, an “under-utilised” area Stidolph pointed out– has been used for metal integrity analysis in the civil engineering, nuclear and space industries. Yet although it offers the desirable ability to see through non-metals, it will only show surface features and remains at a very low TRL to be used by oil and gas operators in the short term.
Of course, the list is by no means exhaustive. During his presentation Stidolph also said that in many cases: “What we probably find is that we need to combine multiple technologies. We might use one innovation for some general signposting of a problem or corrosion precursors for instance, and then use a specific spot inspection technique to look in more detail.”
While the report is only the first stage of a number of initiatives, many of which will be tied to work overseen by forthcoming Oil and Gas Technology Centre, it should help to expand operators’ horizons beyond the silo of oil and gas. The next will be to create a structure under which the technology providers and the asset holders can communicate effectively. If that is successful, InnovOil hopes to see more than one or two of these techniques offered commercially within the next few years.
Lockheed Martin’s full report on asset integrity in the North Sea will be made available via OGIC in late April.