Óscar Luis González Arias
NDT Global

The Cutting Edge of Pipeline Inspection

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 11:20

Over the coming years Mexico’s existing pipeline infrastructure is expected to grow considerably. As new projects become part of an aging existing pipeline network, the importance of inspection, evaluation, as well as maintenance, becomes increasingly obvious. The field of pipeline inspection technology has taken great strides in the last few years, and now involves the capture, transmission, and analysis of data to cover and map all characteristics and potential structural weaknesses of any given pipeline in as much detail as possible. It is in precisely these categories that NDT Global has carved out its niche market. Mexico has been an important part of NDT Global’s portfolio and, conversely, the company has played an important role in the development of Mexico’s pipeline infrastructure as a close ally to PEMEX.

The question going forward is how the company plans to deal with an increasingly diversifying industry. Oscar González, CEO of NDT Global Mexico, maintains a stalwart optimism regarding his company’s continuing success in the Mexican pipeline maintenance market. “We can expect the service portion of our market to increase significantly in the next three to four years. There are very aggressive projects and very large natural gas pipelines being built, and we hope there is more to come as the Energy Reform continues to be implemented.” González is betting on future production increases also resulting in an increased demand for pipeline infrastructure. “The need for pipelines will not only come from increased natural gas imports, but also from an increase in hydrocarbon production. This will become evident in the next five to ten years. NDT Global’s reputation in the industry is such that it is usually summoned during the initial planning stages of pipeline projects to make sure that designs will facilitate maintenance operations in the future. This includes being approached by investors who are putting money into these pipeline projects in order to explore the integrity assessment services that we could provide for them,” adds González. This creates an opportunity for NDT Global to import technologies into Mexico that will become applicable as the Mexican oil and gas industry expands. Among these, NDT Global is looking forward to introducing its magnetic flux leakage (MFL) applications, for which Gonzáles already has a clear timetable. “The change in that line of business is going to come in five to six years due to deepwater production, partially because NDT Global already has proven the worth of this technology in the North Sea. We have very large contracts with BP for specialized offshore applications in high pressure and high temperature deepwater areas.”

NDT Global’s strong position in the inspection market is anchored by its continuous technological development, the latest iterations of which González is quick to delve into. “Our latest development is used for natural gas applications by combining EMAT, Eddy Current, and MFL in one inspection system. This system is very accurate and similar to what we already use for liquid pipelines, while not needing a liquid coupling.” González underlines the competitive advantage of this newest modality. “The service is more expensive but it also provides more information and more applications than before. This benefits clients by giving them a far more accurate image of the condition of the pipeline. One pass with this unified solution provides the same amount of information that would have taken several passes of many technologies several years ago.”

As a close collaborator with PEMEX, González recognizes the NOC’s current abilities when it comes to facilitating pipeline inspection and maintenance, but he is also acutely aware of the limitations of existing infrastructure: “For the last 20-25 years, PEMEX has been careful about which design specs to take into account in order to facilitate inspections. The problem that we had before is that many of the pipelines were built before that. After all, the average pipeline in Mexico is around 40 years old.” The aforementioned limitations have unfortunately become obvious in the wake of high-profile incidents in recent years, such as the fire at well Terra 123, which represented a sobering reminder for González. “It just brought back the awareness that certain parts of the pipeline infrastructure have never been inspected.” It is in the analysis of inspection data that NDT Global has established the most important part of its Mexican presence in its Global Data Center. This section of the company has become so successful that it now represents an independent division separate from the central Mexico office. “It is geographically in Mexico, but the country is just another customer of the Global Data Center. We do have the advantage of being near it, meaning that our engineers can be in PEMEX’s offices very quickly to give a presentation on the state of any pipeline or on the more sophisticated and technical side of our analysis. This is an important advantage to our customers, both private and public.”