Light at the End of the Tunnel for Pipeline MaintainersBy Peter Appleby | Tue, 11/24/2020 - 09:51
Q: How has NDT Global performed in the last 12 months considering the pandemic crisis and the lack of focus on pipelines?
A: There were many expectations when the government came to power, given its intention to revitalize PEMEX. As everyone knows, the last three or four years of the previous administration did not consider PEMEX as a priority and some of its infrastructure was abandoned. The administration is attempting to revitalize this infrastructure, while focusing on the refining side with Dos Bocas and on growing production.
The rest of the supply chain is still waiting, and that includes pipelines and terminals. Unfortunately, infrastructure is being left behind due to the lack of funding. The pipelines, where NDT focuses its business, have the same issues they have had for the last several years.
NDT was fortunate because we started working with PEMEX to create an inspection system for pipelines that are being built to support new offshore production. We have, therefore, been busy during the last few years. We have the best technology available for pipeline inspection: ultrasound. When pipelines are built, they are hydrotested then inspected to ensure they are functioning properly. This is extremely important because once they are operating, production must be stopped if a problem is found in the pipeline, which is costly and time-consuming.
We have been able to establish ourselves in the sector and that has given us work, while the other midstream sections are lacking funding to advance in maintenance and integrity programs. Luckily, we pushed to finish the majority of our work in 1Q20 prior to COVID-19 because pipelines had been delivered late and PEMEX needed to begin operating as soon as possible. The 10 percent we were unable to finish in Q1, we have been finishing slowly, considering safety conditions.
Nevertheless, things change quickly. We recently had to delay some projects due to a pipeline we were going to be testing that was connected to a platform for new shallow water production that will be moved because the well has been found to be empty. The process of design and construction may have to begin again and these things take time.
Outside of this, the rest of our operation has suffered with the slowdown of the industry, but we are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel now. In the last few weeks, PEMEX has been releasing projects again and funding midstream projects. We have just signed a contract to inspect a crude oil pipeline that passes near Mexico City. This was on the books for the past five years and it has finally been granted. This gives us hope that work that has been left idle for years may ramp up in the next couple of years. Both the pandemic and PEMEX’s economic conditions have caused this slowdown.
Q: How do announcements like the infrastructure budget give hope to NDT Global?
A: NDT Global has been working with PEMEX on its pipeline systems continuously since 1982. For the past five or six years, PEMEX has not considered pipelines a high priority. But announcements like the National Infrastructure Plan give me hope because if a new refinery is built and old ones are refurbished, oil must get to the refinery and gasoline must leave the refinery. Eventually, they will realize that production requires the logistics of transportation. As long as the world depends on oil, the industry will depend on pipelines. Replacing rather than maintaining pipelines would take many years and billions of dollars that Mexico does not have.
Q: How is NDT Global developing its technologies to future-proof pipeline testing and maintenance?
A: A couple of years ago, NDT abandoned magnetic flux leakage (MFL) technologies for testing and moved to ultrasound only because of MFL limitations. This gave us a strong position on oil pipes but meant we had to sacrifice the gas market because ultrasonics work on liquid, not gas. Around two-thirds of Mexico’s pipelines are natural gas or gas-related. We have merged with Halfwave, a Norwegian company that has been developing a new technology for the gas market. This is a technology based on acoustic resonance, which uses some similar principles to sonics but is adapted for other uses. It is a direct measurement and offers millimeter-by-millimeter response. A signal is sent into the steel and the variations and resonance of the signal within the steel is registered, providing information about the condition of the steel. It also does not require a coupling like ultrasonics does. All cracks and corrosion are found. It was used on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that connects Russia with Germany and other European nations. NDT Global hopes to regain focus on the natural gas market for next year, which has been growing due to construction by private companies. We used to service these companies with the old technology but the tech we offer now is significantly better. Thanks to the acoustic resonance detection, we can work with TC Energía on the Texas-Tuxpan pipeline next year.
Another reason we have adopted acoustic resonance technology is for its crack detection system for gas. Electromagnetic acoustic transducer technologies have had some success detecting cracks on gas pipes but not to the degree that clients require for complex problems. We have already used this with TransCanada (now TC Energy) in Canada, but we must first develop it further.
NDT Global is an international supplier of ultrasonic pipeline inspection technologies and solutions along with the data analysis services needed to translate the information into useful infrastructural awareness. It manages a prominent data center in Mexico.