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Editorial comment

Increasing efficiency and cost reduction are phrases synonymous with operators’ objectives since the oil price crash in 2014. There’s no doubt the subsequent turmoil has had a huge impact on the entire oil and gas business, and will have a lasting influence on the future of integrated pipeline design processes and operations.

The once maligned buzzwords ‘standardisation’ and ‘digitalisation’ are now seen as key components to streamline and improve work processes, such as design, pipeline installation and operation, as well as increase predictability and transparency for the supply chain. Over-conservatism of design approaches is now being challenged, which will result in the revision of codes, standards and recommended practices. This would ultimately improve quality, as the processes will then be more streamlined with clearer requirements. However, this ‘new normal’ will take some time to fully embed in the psyche of the pipelines sector.

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The rise of digitalisation is already influencing data management and the efficiency to be gained could be significant. Customers are increasingly expecting much shorter delivery times and information that is dynamic and up-to-date. In the future, the industry will be able to manage greater volumes of data, as well as maximising the value of this data by making sense of its diversity and complexity. New opportunities will emerge, based on new possibilities in combined monitoring, advanced inspection and sensor technology. The future could bring cognitive technologies where smart data management and intelligent learning from existing pipelines will lead to improved design criteria. This digital drive would help increase confidence in an asset’s condition and reduce the risk to the buyer, seller or investor.

While the industry can benefit from increasing computational power, unbalanced automation may increase the risk of losing the best engineering practices. Pipeline basic knowledge and decision gates are, and always will be, controlled by good engineering practices and previous project experience. In some parts of the world, the lack of competent engineers and basic pipeline knowledge is still creating huge challenges. Pipelines traverse continents and oceans, making them vulnerable to various risks including environments, cyber attacks, terrorist attacks, and third-party interference. Third-party interference has been one of the largest threats to pipelines in some locations and has been blamed for lost production. Illegal tapping of pipelines is a global problem that costs operators millions of dollars per year and poses a high risk to safety, the environment and company reputation. Analysts predict that global gas consumption will grow and that political instability and supply diversification will encourage new global pipeline routes to reduce uncertainties in the market.

Currently, new pipeline projects are being designed and constructed to supply more natural gas to Europe, namely TAP, TANAP and Nord Stream 2. There are also major pipeline projects planned via Russia to the East, as well as from central Asia to China, Middle East to India, and Africa to Europe.

Less susceptible to oil price fluctuations and global politics, product pipelines within each country’s national borders have to be built and operated efficiently. The growth of this segment is governed by local demand and the condition of the internal infrastructure. In developing countries, under-invested pipeline infrastructure will require outlay to continue their local supply and possible connection to neighbouring countries.

Collaboration across the industry is key for a sustainable pipeline sector. Pipeline operators have valuable information about pipelines in operation, which can be harnessed to provide better predictive tools.

This can be facilitated by industry forums where owners and operators share information for mutual benefit. Ongoing innovation in design, installation and operation of pipelines is critical to drive the pipeline industry forward and ensure the upcoming advances, such as new composite materials, control and instrumentation tools, unmanned inspection vehicles and repair systems that help deliver the operators’ objectives and requirements.

The pipeline industry has not been immune from the negative impact of the oil price crash. Though the oil price remains relatively low, the market is more stable than before and the industry is adapting to the ‘new normal’. The metamorphosis from ’reducing cost’ to ‘adding value’ is gaining strength and momentum. Despite the uncertainties, DNV GL’s combined capability in onshore and offshore pipelines is supporting the pipeline industry to move forward to a future, which is safer, smarter and greener.