May 17, 2020

Key pipeline construction jobs to move the world’s oil

4 min
Oil Pipeline Construction

Niger Delta Pipeline
As Nigeria is known as Africas largest oil producer, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) is currently co...

Niger Delta Pipeline
As Nigeria is known as Africa’s largest oil producer, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) is currently constructing an oil pipeline in the Niger Delta as part of a continuous $1.1 billion rehabilitation project. The Nembe Creek Trunkline, nearing construction completion, will measure 97 kilometers. The transportation capacity will reach 600,000 barrels per day, moving oil from a total of 14 oil-pumping stations. Crude oil will be transported from the Niger Delta to the Bonny export terminal, located in Rivers State.

So far, SPDC has replaced over 1,000 kilometers of pipeline over the last five years, around 320 kilometers last year alone, signifying the single largest project for the company’s integrity program. It is imperative that oil transporting facilities in the Niger Delta are kept in proper working order, since much pollution has already enveloped that location, which is known as the largest wetlands in the world. Protesters and saboteurs regularly attack pipeline development in response to existing negative environmental impact that oil transporting has had on the area.

Managing Director of SPDC, Mutiu Sunmonu, stated in a press release, “We strive to maintain our facilities to the highest standards. It is simply a good, responsible, business approach that not only protects the environment and helps our community relations, but also maximizes our production capability.”

Keystone Pipeline
The first phase of TransCanada’s Keystone Pipeline construction has been completed, allowing oil transportation to begin in late-June of this year. The total pipeline is considered to be one of the longest and most costly pipelines ever to be constructed in North America. The pipeline covers a span of 2,151 miles, stretching from the Athabasca tar sands of Alberta to the Wood River refinery, owned by ConocoPhillips and located in Roxana, and then connecting to Patoka, Illinois. The carrying capacity reaches approximately half-a-million barrels per day, which is enough to provide around two percent of the daily U.S. demand.

According to TransCanada, “The US $12 billion Keystone pipeline will play an important role in linking a secure and growing supply of Canadian crude oil with the largest refining markets in the United States, significantly improving North American security supply.”

Once the entire project is complete, the Keystone Pipeline System will consist of the 3,461-kilometer Keystone Pipeline and the suggested 2,673-kilometer Keystone Gulf Coast Expansion Project. Phase two of the project commences this year, and construction is expected to be completed by the fourth quarter of 2010. The pipeline is scheduled to be operating by 2011.

This pipeline is not being built without concerns, particularly as the nation is still slowly recovering from the recent Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and, in July of this year, a 30-inch leak from an Enbridge Inc pipeline, which poured around one million gallons of crude oil in the Kalamazoo River.

Sunrise Oil Sands Project
Enbridge Inc, the largest pipeline operator in the oil sands region, is due to construct a pipeline to transport oil from the Sunrise Oil Sands project owned by Husky Energy Inc and BP Plc. The pipeline will cover 112 kilometers, running from the northern Alberta project site to the Cheecham terminal, where several pipelines join together. Construction of the $475 million pipeline is scheduled to be complete in 2013, with an initial capacity of 90,000 barrels of oil a day. Once production is expanded, the pipeline’s planned capacity will reach up to 270,000 barrels per day. Additionally, oil storage tanks will be constructed at the terminal. The company, after recovering from the July pipeline rupture, is working toward building on its regional oil sands pipelines due to an increased output in the region.

Additionally, the company has established that it will invest in a $185-million expansion project. The investment will support the pipeline which serves the Christina Lake oil sands project, owned by Cenovus Energy Inc. Construction of a new $370-million pipeline is also due to take place for the Suncor Energy Inc oil sand operation.

Nipisi & Mitsue Pipeline Projects
Willbros Canada, an independent contractor serving the oil, gas, power, refining and petrochemical industries, will be handling the construction of the Nipisi & Mitsue Pipeline Projects, owned by Pembina Pipeline Corporation. Willbros will be responsible for developing six pump stations, in addition to 90 kilometers of pipeline near Slave Lake, Alberta. Construction on the pipeline is due to begin in December of 2010, and it is expected to be fully operational by mid-2011.

Randy Harl, President and Chief Executive Officer, stated in a press release, "We are pleased to have another opportunity to work for Pembina in support of their heavy oil pipeline transportation capacity expansion efforts. We have seen marked improvement in the Canadian hydrocarbon market, and we look forward to delivering superior quality and value to Pembina."


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Jun 12, 2021

Why Transmission & Distribution Utilities Need Digital Twins

Petri Rauhakallio
6 min
Petri Rauhakallio at Sharper Shape outlines the Digital Twins benefits for energy transmission and distribution utilities

As with any new technology, Digital twins can create as many questions as answers. There can be a natural resistance, especially among senior utility executives who are used to the old ways and need a compelling case to invest in new ones. 

So is digital twin just a fancy name for modelling? And why do many senior leaders and engineers at power transmission & distribution (T&D) companies have a gnawing feeling they should have one? Ultimately it comes down to one key question: is this a trend worth our time and money?

The short answer is yes, if approached intelligently and accounting for utilities’ specific needs. This is no case of runaway hype or an overwrought name for an underwhelming development – digital twin technology can be genuinely transformational if done right. So here are six reasons why in five years no T&D utility will want to be without a digital twin. 

1. Smarter Asset Planning

A digital twin is a real-time digital counterpart of a utility’s real-world grid. A proper digital twin – and not just a static 3D model of some adjacent assets – represents the grid in as much detail as possible, is updated in real-time and can be used to model ‘what if’ scenarios to gauge the effects in real life. It is the repository in which to collect and index all network data, from images, to 3D pointclouds, to past reports and analyses.

With that in mind, an obvious use-case for a digital twin is planning upgrades and expansions. For example, if a developer wants to connect a major solar generation asset, what effect might that have on the grid assets, and will they need upgrading or reinforcement? A seasoned engineer can offer an educated prediction if they are familiar with the local assets, their age and their condition – but with a digital twin they can simply model the scenario on the digital twin and find out.

The decision is more likely to be the right one, the utility is less likely to be blindsided by unforeseen complications, and less time and money need be spent visiting the site and validating information.

As the energy transition accelerates, both transmission and distribution (T&D) utilities will receive more connection requests for anything from solar parks to electric vehicle charging infrastructure, to heat pumps and batteries – and all this on top of normal grid upgrade programs. A well-constructed digital twin may come to be an essential tool to keep up with the pace of change.

2. Improved Inspection and Maintenance

Utilities spend enormous amounts of time and money on asset inspection and maintenance – they have to in order to meet their operational and safety responsibilities. In order to make the task more manageable, most utilities try to prioritise the most critical or fragile parts of the network for inspection, based on past inspection data and engineers’ experience. Many are investigating how to better collect, store and analyze data in order to hone this process, with the ultimate goal of predicting where inspections and maintenance are going to be needed before problems arise.  

The digital twin is the platform that contextualises this information. Data is tagged to assets in the model, analytics and AI algorithms are applied and suggested interventions are automatically flagged to the human user, who can understand what and where the problem is thanks to the twin. As new data is collected over time, the process only becomes more effective.

3. More Efficient Vegetation Management

Utilities – especially transmission utilities in areas of high wildfire-risk – are in a constant struggle with nature to keep vegetation in-check that surrounds power lines and other assets. Failure risks outages, damage to assets and even a fire threat. A comprehensive digital twin won’t just incorporate the grid assets – a network of powerlines and pylons isolated on an otherwise blank screen – but the immediate surroundings too. This means local houses, roads, waterways and trees. 

If the twin is enriched with vegetation data on factors such as the species, growth rate and health of a tree, then the utility can use it to assess the risk from any given twig or branch neighbouring one of its assets, and prioritise and dispatch vegetation management crews accordingly. 

And with expansion planning, inspection and maintenance, the value here is less labor-intensive and more cost-effective decision making and planning – essential in an industry of tight margins and constrained resources. What’s more, the value only rises over time as feedback allows the utility to finesse the program.

4. Automated powerline inspection

Remember though, that to be maximally useful, a digital twin must be kept up to date. A larger utility might blanche at the resources required to not just to map and inspect the network once in order to build the twin, but update that twin at regular intervals.

However, digital twins are also an enabling technology for another technological step-change – automated powerline inspection.

Imagine a fleet of sensor-equipped drones empowered to fly the lines almost constantly, returning (automatically) only to recharge their batteries. Not only would such a set-up be far cheaper to operate than a comparable fleet of human inspectors, it could provide far more detail at far more regular intervals, facilitating all the above benefits of better planning, inspection, maintenance and vegetation management. Human inspectors could be reserved for non-routine interventions that really require their hard-earned expertise.

In this scenario, the digital twin provides he ‘map’ by which the drone can plan a route and navigate itself, in conjunction with its sensors. 

5. Improved Emergency Modelling and Faster Response

If the worst happens and emergency strikes, such as a wildfire or natural disaster, digital twins can again prove invaluable. The intricate, detailed understanding of the grid, assets and its surroundings that a digital twin gives is an element of order in a chaotic situation, and can guide the utility and emergency services alike in mounting an informed response.

And once again, the digital twin’s facility for ‘what-if’ scenario testing is especially useful for emergency preparedness. If a hurricane strikes at point X, what will be the effect on assets at point Y? If a downed pylon sparks a fire at point A, what residences are nearby and what does an evacuation plan look like?

6. Easier accommodation of external stakeholders

Finally, a digital twin can make lighter work of engaging with external stakeholders. The world doesn’t stand still, and a once blissfully-isolated powerline may suddenly find itself adjacent to a building site for a new building or road. 

As well as planning for connection (see point 1), a digital twin takes the pain out of those processes that require interfacing with external stakeholders, such as maintenance contractors, arborists, trimming crews or local government agencies – the digital twin breaks down the silos between these groups and allows them to work from a single version of the truth – in future it could even be used as part of the bid process for contractors.

These six reasons for why digital twins will be indispensable to power T&D utilities are only the tip of the iceberg; the possibilities are endless given the constant advancement of data collection an analysis technology. No doubt these will invite even more questions – and we relish the challenge of answering them. 


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