Changing Perspectives on Asset Integrity ManagementWed, 01/22/2014 - 16:34
“Only recently have companies begun to fully measure the financial impact of not investing enough in infrastructure preservation. Asset maintenance has become a growing concern among international companies in the oil and gas industry,” says Lorenzo Martínez Gómez, President of Corrosión y Protección. “The importance of upkeep and asset supervision for oil and gas companies has been magnified, alongside an upgrading of the importance given to safety and accident prevention. This will be particularly true for PEMEX. As it steadily becomes more value-creation driven and starts competing with private operators, it will be paying more attention to preventive management practices, instead of corrective ones.”
When talking about the place asset maintenance has taken in the Mexican market, Martínez Gómez focuses on the fast pace at which pipeline projects have become a priority. “The amount of pipeline projects in the industry has skyrocketed, and more and more of the projects that are under way are of a much more extensive and time-consuming nature,” he says. PEMEX is planning to invest in over 4,000km of pipelines during the current presidential term in order to meet growing energy demand. However, the investment in Mexico’s pipeline network does not stop there. “We are also seeing an expansion in the number of private companies seeking to produce their own energy,” Martínez Gómez elaborates. “These companies usually manage gas-operated, combined-cycle plants, which need natural gas to function. This incentivizes the construction of more pipelines to ensure proper distribution.” With a heightened relevance being put on asset maintenance projects, it is only natural to see more pipeline integrity developments growing alongside the expansion of distribution networks in the country. “Pipeline integrity management is a very important concern for the industry at the moment. The consequences of not taking it seriously can be disastrous, resulting in downtime and financial losses,” Martínez Gómez explains. “It is no longer an issue of assessing the potential risk in terms of low, medium, and high risk, but to do so in concrete financial terms such as dollars per year.” He urges that maintenance be treated as a capital interest, with PEMEX needing to have access to the right information to properly calculate the needed level of investment. Aside from the upcoming pipeline projects, PEMEX and other operators are in the midst of an infrastructure replacement drive, particularly targeting tanks and tank bottoms. “If storage tanks are not given proper maintenance, the lower part of the structure begins to corrode, thereby reducing terminal capacity,” Martínez Gómez explains. Given the fact that there are 50,000 storage containers in the country, practices such as cathodic protection have become increasingly commonplace. “Terminals are extremely vulnerable to corrosion in tanks, making their integrity a very sensitive issue,” he adds. “A potential failure has a huge impact on the business end of the operation: the resulting downtime and reparations representing an enormous monetary loss for the company.” This impact does not even include the significant environmental impact that such failures imply. Corrosion can easily produce leaks within tanks, ultimately causing great damage to the soil beneath them.
Corrosión y Protección has an unwavering idea of what needs to happen to improve safety and performance in the Mexican oil and gas industry. “Robust coatings and strong cathodic protection should be seen as the main recipe for minimizing accidents in terms of asset integrity management,” says Martínez Gómez, adding that it also helps to prevent other types of failure, such as stress corrosion cracking. “This is a more treacherous form of failure that cracks a pipeline wide open, rather than gradually degrading it. The unpredictability and speed of stress corrosion cracking makes it more feared in the industry.”
The formula does not mean only adding corrosion inhibitors, but leads to the development of efficient infrastructure management practices and strategies, which usually fall upon the operator. “We need more modern risk assessment technology. Risk is obviously something we have to learn to live with, but keeping it manageable is very important,” says Martínez Gómez. “This is a matter of making well-informed decisions and allocating an appropriate maintenance budget for risk minimization.” Corrosión y Protección puts an increased emphasis on designing strategies to help operators make better decisions and have a firmer grasp on the integrity of their assets. “Through operator evaluation and qualification, we are able to measure the efficiency and impact of actions taken,” Martínez Gómez explains. “If we manage to certify every worker and operator involved with pipelines, tanks, or other valuable assets, performance will be optimized, risk will be reduced, and security will be guaranteed as a result.” He proposes that properly trained and certified personnel having been through peer-review systems could prove to be one of the factors that can prevent corrosion and protect asset integrity in general.