Teaching Cathodic Protection with an Outdoor Pipeline Integrity Lab

Students in OSUIT's new outdoor pipeline integrity lab use an active rectifier to simulate cathodic protection activities on buried pipes. Photo courtesy of OSUIT.

A continued partnership between Phillips 66 (Houston, Texas) and the Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology (OSUIT) (Okmulgee, Oklahoma) recently led to the launch of a new pipeline integrity outdoor laboratory as part of the school’s commitment to teaching new industry technologies.

Pipeline students say the new outdoor lab allows them to take surveys and readings, just as they would in the field, and then better interpret those findings.

“It’s way better than sitting in a classroom and watching screens or reading books on how to do things,” says Travis Fielding, a student in the pipeline integrity program at OSUIT, according to a news release from OSUIT.1 “This lab is the closest thing to a real-world experience that you’re going to get.”

“It will help us put two and two together and know how to use the equipment,” Fielding adds.

Details of the Lab

From a layman’s perspective, the lab appears relatively nondescript, save for a few large pipes on the ground. Essentially, it is an open field with tall, thin yellow rods emerging from the ground and an active rectifier on one end.

What many people do not see is the 350 ft (106.7 m) of pipe buried just beneath the surface. The rectifier facilitates cathodic protection (CP), as part of an effort to train students on corrosion control strategies for the pipes by simulating real-life pipeline activities, according to Joe Bartlett, an instructor in OSUIT’s pipeline integrity technology program.

“The goal of the pipeline integrity program is to keep the public, the environment, and the pipeline facility safe,” Bartlett says. “This training facility will help achieve that goal.”

“The fact that you cannot see this training tool doesn’t diminish the importance of the facility,” he adds. “This is just as important as a gas compressor in the natural gas compression program, electric line poles in the high-voltage program, or a generator in the Aggreko program.”

Including issues related to CP, Bartlett notes that the new outdoor lab should allow students to understand and perform more than 30 tasks that will be part of the day-to-day job expectations when they enter the industry workforce.

“This facility allows a student to leave OSUIT with more confidence that they are ready for their internships and ultimately ready for the future as a pipeline integrity professional,” Bartlett says.

Students say the lab is helping them understand pipeline integrity concepts in a different way than if they were merely sitting in a classroom.

“The program has come a long way, and now having a space to go out and actually do some of these tests first-hand will fill in some of the gaps,” says Lily Henderson, a student in OSUIT’s pipeline integrity program. “You can actually troubleshoot like we would in the field. It will definitely give first-year students an advantage when they go on internship.”

School’s Partnership with Phillips 66

Funding for the lab was secured by the ongoing partnership between OSUIT and Phillips 66, which spans Oklahoma State’s School of Energy Technologies through equipment and financial donations, as well as curriculum development. According to the school, the partnership led specifically to the development of its pipeline integrity technology degree program, and Phillips 66 has since provided funding for the creation of the outdoor lab, as well as an indoor classroom.

OSUIT’s ongoing partnership with Phillips 66 was honored earlier this year with the Regents Business Partnership Excellence Award by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. Photo courtesy of OSUIT.

“Without Phillips 66, we would not have nearly as much equipment and students wouldn’t be trained to the level they are now,” Bartlett says. “These students see equipment and materials that may take them years to understand and experience in the field. They have the opportunity to hone their skills in a safe environment and learn the proper use and correct methods of operation of various pieces of equipment that is specific to the industry.”

Phillips 66 also arranges guest speakers, workshops, internships, and scholarships for students in the program. Rafael Rengifo, tank and facility manager of Phillips 66’s midstream business, played a key role in starting the internship program for pipeline integrity students and has since mentored the first two OSUIT students who interned with the company.

“The OSUIT interns we have had arrive well prepared in very specific areas of pipeline integrity, which you don’t normally find from other programs and universities,” Rengifo says. “Our support in resources and our discussions on the key areas for the pipeline integrity program are paid back in the young talent that are ready to support our operations on their first day.”


1 S. Plummer, “Pipeline Integrity Outdoor Lab,” Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology, September 20, 2016, https://osuit.edu/news/pipeline-integrity-outdoor-lab (November 10, 2016).

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