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Maximizing Life Of Aging Pipelines Modern Management

Though not quite as old as Rome’s ancient aqueduct system, the water and wastewater infrastructure operated by many North American utilities might, to some observers, appear just as antiquated.

For many pipeline operators, failures on pipelines installed decades ago are increasing in frequency, and as large-diameter pipeline assets begin to fail more frequently, the results can be more severe. This ongoing problem leaves utilities between a rock and hard place on whether to maintain or replace their assets.

Pipeline operators might do as the astute Romans did – take a step-by-step proactive approach to manage their transmission systems, enhanced today with the help of modern inline technologies.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and American Society of Civil Engineers estimate the funding costs associated with buried infrastructure ranges from more than $200 billion to $1 trillion over the next 25 years. Pure Technologies is helping utilities manage their buried infrastructure through its Assess and Address® approach to pipeline management. This approach has saved clients hundreds of millions of dollars in capital replacement costs.

Assess and Address the System for Potential Problems

Conventional pipeline management allowed a pipeline to fail multiple times before replacement. While this “three strikes and you’re out” approach may work well for small-diameter distribution pipelines, it isn’t a cost-effective solution for large-diameter pipelines, especially those built without redundancy and without practical options to shut down.

A capital replacement program for large-diameter pressure pipelines not only carries a high price, but also poses significant logistical challenges, especially in urban centers. The headaches get bigger if a section of problematic pipeline runs through the downtown core and is the main source of water for a hospital or office tower.

Through the assessment of more than 8,000 miles of large-diameter pipelines, it is clear that even problematic transmission mains can be managed. In fact, Pure has found that 96 percent of pipe sections do not have any deterioration at all and are in “like new” condition, while less than 1 percent of pipe sections require immediate repair.

Better Understanding Ensures Fewer Surprises

In order to effectively manage a pipeline system, utility operators must first understand their pipeline system. Since many systems were built decades ago, the drawings are often out of date, as features have been added or removed over the years. By completing the knowledge-gathering process before attempting inspections or repairs, utility operators can avoid surprises and create a streamlined pipeline management effort.

By working with a firm that specializes in condition assessment, utility operators can gain a better understanding of their network, and create a prioritized plan for inspection or renewal.

As an example of smart collaboration, Pure Technologies has partnered with Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) in a multi-year program to manage approximately 145 miles of prestressed concrete cylinder pipe (PCCP) water transmission mains that serve nearly 2 million customers outside of Washington, DC. By adopting the Assess and Address model, WSSC has been able to evaluate and actively monitor the condition of its PCCP inventory instead of completing an expensive capital replacement project. To date, over 70 miles of PCCP is being safely managed for approximately 6 percent of the capital replacement cost, saving WSSC nearly $2 billion, which was the estimated capital cost of replacing the assets entirely.

Pure’s fundamental approach to pipeline management programs is to maximize the life of the existing pipeline. Maintaining an existing pipeline though proactive repair and management is in the utility’s economic interest. Our approach identifies deteriorated pipe sections, allowing for isolated repairs that extend the life of a pipeline, rather than making broad recommendations to replace the entire pipeline with capital funds.

Based on the average annual capital spending of large water utilities, it would take decades to replace large-diameter assets entirely, without factoring in the need for other capital renewal projects. Not only is this expensive and time consuming, it is also logistically challenging and disruptive to replace large sections of pipeline.

The Assess and Address Approach Involves 4 Steps

To successfully implement a pipeline management program, utilities can generally follow four key steps:

  1. Understand – Review current pipeline data, complete a risk evaluation, and develop appropriately scaled condition assessment strategies for prioritized pipelines.
  2. Assess – Execute condition assessment using a variety of tools to collect data and evaluate the data to assign condition ratings. This step includes a report of findings and recommendations on how to manage the pipeline.
  3. Address – Problematic locations identified in the condition assessment can be renewed immediately or planned for future re-inspection.
  4. Manage – After rehabilitation, the risk of failure is lower and proactive management measures should be employed to maintain a low risk.

As a result of Pure’s pipeline management programs with clients that range from small towns to major cities, utilities have seen a significant per-mile reduction in costs, while obtaining technically superior data on the real condition of their most critical pipeline assets. With such impressive numbers, it’s something ancient Roman engineers would appreciate.