Det Norske Veritas (U.S.A.), Inc. (DNV GL) prepared this paper in order to study the expected accuracy of in-line inspections (ILI) as a function of year, depth (both reported and field measured), and length, amongst other factors. DNV GL has access to a significant amount of data that span many different pipeline operators, ILI vendors, inspection years, and inspection technologies. DNV GL is well suited to complete this study as a result of our access to these various data sets.
Over 3,000 individual comparisons of ILI and field depths and lengths spanning from 2010 through 2015 from 11 operators and 68 line segments were compiled to meet the objectives of this paper. Inspection technologies include axial magnetic flux leakage (MFL), ultrasonic wall thickness (UTWT), spiral MFL, and circumferential MFL.
Based on the analyses conducted in this paper, the following conclusions were generated.
• Axial MFL and UTWT inspections show significant improvements over the last several years.
• Axial MFL inspection systems are capable of meeting a depth accuracy of +/−10% of the wall thickness with 80% certainty, but this has not always been the case. UTWT inspection systems are capable of meeting a higher depth accuracy.
• Axial MFL inspection systems report more pits and circumferential grooves than UTWT systems. This could suggest UTWT systems are less sensitive to pits and circumferential grooves than axial MFL systems.
• Both axial MFL and UTWT inspection systems routinely under call defects with field measured depths greater than 50 to 80% of the wall thickness. This is contrary to a widely held notion that ILI is conservative for deep defects.
• ILI reported defect lengths do not correlate well to field measured defect lengths. In general, field measured defect lengths are greater than ILI reported defect lengths.
• Depth accuracy tends to decrease slightly for very short defects (less than 1-inch) and for very long defects (greater than 40-inches).
Based on these conclusions, the authors make the following recommendations:
• Pipeline operators should dig more than the deepest reported defects to better understand the accuracy of the inspection tools being used and to determine whether deeper anomalies are being under called.
• Pipeline operators should consider methods for evaluating change in corrosion depth from ILI survey to ILI survey to lessen the dependence on the accuracy of the ILI tools. This should include a raw data signal analysis in order to determine whether the general morphology (metal loss length and width) are changing between ILI surveys.
• ILI reported defect lengths should be used in conjunction with field measured defect depths (if available) when performing failure pressure calculations.
• Additional accuracy, especially for deeper defects, may only come with new tool developments. Industry support of such developments will be required to bring them to fruition.