Risk Based Condition Assessments Pure Technologies

Water and sewer utilities across North America are facing a major funding gap related to their buried pipeline infrastructure. Based on current estimates, utilities do not have enough capital available to fix or replace their aging assets. In addition to the funding gap, utilities are under scrutiny because of increased incidences of pipeline failures that are disruptive to communities and expensive to mitigate.

This new reality has forced utilities to squeeze more remaining life out of existing assets, creating more demand for condition assessment programs that allow utilities to identify specific areas of damage and selectively repair pipelines in favor of full replacement.

Historically, condition assessment has been in the realm of a few specialized firms that respond to high profile pipeline failures; however, the industry has changed and condition assessment is becoming widely used and trusted. This approach has been adopted by many utilities that have successfully managed risk and extended the life of assets for a fraction of the cost of a replacement program.

According to a study by Pure Technologies, the majority of pipelines 16 inches and above can be cost-effectively managed for between 5 and 15 percent of the replacement cost. The study found that pipeline damage is typically not systematic across an entire pipeline, but is usually localized due to factors such as design, manufacturing, installation, environmental, operational or maintenance factors.

Equipped with this information, utilities can be assured that assessing the majority of their mains before replacement can reduce their infrastructure gap and extend the useful life of assets.

However, one question that often gets asked about condition assessment programs is how a utility should choose the right condition assessment solution.

The easiest way to solve this challenge is to employ a risk-based approach to condition assessment using a variety of tools that offer different resolutions.

Staff inserting tools

Defining Risk and Pipeline Priorities

Risk is a measure of the probability and consequence of uncertain future events, in this case, potential pipeline failure. A basic approach can be used to define risk even in complex systems; simply, risk is a product of Consequence of Failure and Likelihood of Failure (CoF x LoF).

Consequence of Failure (COF) refers to the damage a failure would cause based on factors like its location, the amount of users it supplies, and its size and operating pressure. Likelihood of Failure (LOF) refers to the probability of a failure occurring based on factors such as age, pipe material, soil conditions, operating pressure, failure history, among others.

Generally, the Consequence of Failure is well defined by the potential damage a pipeline failure would impose on the surrounding environment and is generally fairly static – or – once defined, it is unlikely going to change rapidly.

With this in mind the key to managing risk, or the possibility that a pipeline could fail, is in understanding the Likelihood of Failure. This can be achieved by quantifying the physical condition of the pipeline and understanding and quantifying the factors that affect the potential for deterioration of the assets.

Once risk is defined, the pipeline inventory can be prioritized which helps in the selection of condition assessment approaches and the application of the appropriate technologies. In general, high-risk pipelines warrant a detailed assessment while low risk pipelines can use lower resolution alternatives.

Using Risk to Select Condition Assessment Techniques

When selecting condition assessment techniques, qualifications and technical judgment should be used in lieu of price. High resolution tools come with a higher cost, but saving money on a low resolution condition assessment is not a responsible alternative for a high-risk main.

For example, the savings gained by selecting a low resolution technology for a large-diameter pipeline with a high CoF are often miniscule in comparison to the repair and capital programming decisions that result from the low resolution condition assessment data. If the data is inconclusive or inaccurate, a utility may unnecessarily invest millions in a capital replacement program that was not required, easily eliminating the savings achieved by selecting the less expensive condition assessment option.

Tech monitoring results

Additionally, the cost of a failure should be considered when selecting a lower-cost assessment for a critical pipeline. The average cost of a large-diameter pipe failure is between US $500,000 and $1.5 million; money saved on lower-resolution assessments can easily be negated by the cost of mitigating a single failure and the resulting reputational damage.

One method of selecting a technology is to compare uncertainty to risk. As mentioned earlier, risk is a measure of the probability and consequence of uncertain future events. When dealing with a high-risk asset, it is important that the solution allows the utility manager to minimize the uncertainty of the condition assessment. More importantly, it is crucial that the utility manager knows the condition of the asset to the best extent possible, particularly in areas where there is a high Consequence of Failure.

Pure Technologies has a suite of condition assessment tools with different resolutions. Our low resolution solutions can provide basic condition data on leaks, air pockets and areas of pipe wall stress that could represent damage. This is a valuable prescreening option for high-risk mains, or alternatively for lower risk mains, can be enough detail for a utility to manage the asset.

Pure’s medium and high resolution tools provide more comprehensive data for higher risk pipe. Our high resolution tools can provide detailed accuracy, for example, locating small pits on metallic pipe. The data collected from both medium and high resolution tools is often used by utilities to create rehabilitation plans for critical mains.

Regardless of the solution provider, it is important that utilities employ a balanced, risk-based approach to condition assessment that uses appropriate tools. The most important factor a utility owner can remember is that there is no silver bullet to assess an entire system.