Cathodic Protection Remote Monitoring Evolution: Overcoming Difficult, New Challenges with Advanced Technology

Photo Courtesy of MOBILTEX

The CP industry is incredibly dynamic with constant change in regulations, technology development, new products and best practices. The team at Mobiltex is keenly aware of this and is continually working with customers and industry peers to identify the top trends and greatest challenges that pipeline operators face.

We recently took stock of what we’ve been learning and picked out the trends that seem to be causing the greatest concern among our customers, and the ones providing the most significant opportunities to improve pipeline monitoring. Even while undertaking this exercise, we experienced the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic—an unanticipated, tragic event that could impact virtually every aspect of business operation and employee safety.

In this article, I’ll share more about the operational challenges posed by these top four trends in our changing world and also ask you to take stock of how you’re planning to address them.

Sunsetting Communication Platforms

Communication platforms and CP monitoring equipment are continually evolving, which means that in-field devices must be periodically upgraded or replaced to ensure connectivity and uninterrupted operation. The sunset of the 2G and 3G cellular platforms is well underway with a planned completion by the end of 2021. Some of the early satellite IIoT communications technologies are also being sunset, including Orbcomm’s IsatM2M which ceases operations on December 31, 2020. Whenever this type of event occurs, it is painful for users as otherwise normally functioning equipment must be replaced, and it always raises the question of how long the replacement or alternative technologies will last.

The cellular technologies that replaced 2G and 3G are known as LTE, and unless you have living under a rock, you will also know that 5G is coming as well. The question we get asked a lot is how long the new technologies will be around, and should I invest in LTE for my cellular assets? The short answer to this question is that LTE will be around for a long time, and IoT derivatives of it will be around even longer. Most of our cell phones use much of their power informing cell towers of our whereabouts, pinging towers roughly every second with a signal that says ‘I’m here!’.

Most IoT equipment is stationary, and battery life is more important than knowing the device’s location. The evolution of cellular data technology has also focused on increasing bandwidth to allow all of us to stream movies and music faster and faster. In the IoT world, these two evolutions are the opposite of what is required; IoT has smaller bandwidth requirements, is usually stationary and does not require signals to hop cell towers. The latest IoT cell technologies LTE Cat M1 and NBIoT are designed for lower bandwidth and maximum battery life.

Similarly, with the sunset of the IsatM2M this year, users may reasonably ask about the longevity of our products that communicate via the Iridium and Globalstar satellites. Iridium satellite technology has been around since 1998. However, more relevant is the recent hardware upgrade that used the SpaceX Falcon9 rockets to send 75 new Iridium satellites into low earth orbit, ensuring that this technology will be viable for decades to come.

The other popular satellite technology used here at MOBILTEX for applications utilizing one-way communications is Globalstar Simplex. Between 2010 and 2013, Globalstar launched its second generation satellite constellation which will also be operational for the foreseeable future.

Is your CP monitoring equipment built with modular, upgradable future-proof components that will enable it to survive into the next era of wireless communication?

Changing Regulations

The US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration, which is the chief regulator for US oil and gas pipelines, is initiating a new Mega Rule on July 1 to improve pipeline safety. Part 1 of the Mega Rule will expand the total length of pipelines that are subject to pipeline integrity management programs, such as periodic condition assessment and cathodic protection, I while increasing record keeping and reporting standards. Two additional parts are anticipated to be published over the next few years.

These regulations, which were originally initiated after a string of high profile accidents, will continue to expand the requirements for operators of critical gas and hazardous liquids pipeline infrastructure across the board, which will in turn increase the frequency and scale of pipeline integrity activities and further reinforce the importance of remote data collection and verification.

Regulators in the U.S. and Canada are also increasingly concerned with the risk of geohazards, such as landslides and seismic activities, on critical pipeline infrastructure. 2019 saw PHMSA and the Alberta Energy Regulator issue advisory notices, which outline best practices that industry should adopt to help mitigate these risks in the future.

Is your company able to quickly and cost-effectively expand its CP monitoring network to ensure compliance with the Mega Rule?

Boosting Operational Efficiency While Enhancing Worker Safety

Highly skilled field technicians are often tasked with simple, straightforward tasks such as manually collecting performance data from CP systems. This time-consuming task precludes field technicians from performing other essential tasks where they can provide greater value such as proactive maintenance and optimization of the pipelines and ancillary equipment. But manual data collection, and the associated travel, also exposes technicians to significant personal risk from road traffic, high voltage shock hazards, weather, animal encounters and now, pathogenic threats such as COVID-19.

Has your company evaluated the operational and safety benefits of automating CP data collection from remote or difficult-to-access locations?

Avoiding Data Overload

Pipeline operators collect millions of data points each year from sources such as CP regulatory compliance readings, remote CP monitoring, close interval surveys, interference testing, system alarms, etc.

In the past, much data has been collected. While this data can reveal many previously unknown aspects of CP system operation that can impact pipeline integrity, such as seasonal performance variations, short-lived interference and more, one of the common issues that we hear from our customers is the difficulty in managing the increased the amount data as the quantity of monitoring devices increases. We are looking at ways to use advances in data analytics to help our customers not only manage the increasing amount of data collected, but providing analytical tools that will help our customers derive more value from the wealth of data the collect.

If you have ideas for how your company can use advanced analytics, visualizations and reports from its CP data to enable operational efficiencies and predictive asset management, I would love to hear from you. Our product management has already reached out to many of our customers, but we are always looking for more input to shape the future of our hardware and software.

Clearly, each of these trends comes with challenges, but also exciting opportunities for progressive change. MOBILTEX is leading the way with future-proof CP monitoring devices that incorporate modular, easy-to-upgrade components designed, not only to withstand the elements, but also the relentless changes our industry experiences.

In future posts, I’ll dig deeper into each of the trends that we learned about today and share more information about the MOBILTEX portfolio. You’ll learn about the products and best practices that can help your company quickly adapt to ever-changing communication protocols, comply with increasing regulations, address workforce dynamics and maximize the value of abundant operational data.

In the meantime, I also invite you to view our on-demand webinar on these topics and to see some of the advances in remote CP monitoring technology: Unleashing IIoT for Cathodic Protection and Pipeline Integrity