Pipeline operators rely extensively on in-line inspection (ILI) systems and other forms of non-destructive examination (NDE) as the basis for meeting the continual assessment requirements to evaluate pipeline integrity. The verification of ILI prediction accuracy involves correlating ILI data to direct inspection/assessment information using traditional NDE methods such as Ultrasonic Testing (UT), Phased Array Ultrasonic Testing (PAUT), and Electromagnetic Testing (ET). Substantial effort has been taken to establish and consider measurement tolerances for ILI systems, but not as much attention has been placed on understanding the tolerances of NDE technologies. Through studies conducted by Pipeline Research Council International, Inc. (PRCI) these NDE methods have been shown to have inconsistencies and inaccuracies in sizing and characterizing pipe wall and weld seam crack-like anomalies. Effectively managing the uncertainty in NDE measurements and selection of the appropriate technologies for anomaly verification is as important to continuous improvement in pipeline integrity management programs as ILI tool tolerance.
A primary goal for pipeline operators is to develop field-ready NDE methods for full volumetric characterization of pipeline anomalies. The inability of traditional NDE methods to accurately provide a three-dimensional (3D) image of a pipe wall features in the field leads to critical decisions being made based on imprecise tools, with layers of conservatism being included in the analysis for both NDE and ILI measurements. The lack of precision often leads to conservative and therefore excessive repair digs, unnecessary pipe replacements, and in some cases hydrostatic pressure testing of the pipeline to verify the system integrity.
This paper presents the results of a research project that includes comparative analysis of seam anomaly characterization data from an ILI system, traditional NDE inspection, Computed Tomography (CT), and metallurgical results. CT is the only current method that has shown consistency in providing accurate 3D profile measurements of an anomaly comparable to destructive testing and direct measurement of anomaly characteristics. The CT results presented in this paper represent the potential for field ready inspection capabilities as the data were obtained from full circumference measurement of pipe samples rather than plate samples, which have typically been studied in prior analysis of CT methods. Obtaining accurate data on anomaly dimensions is critical to understanding and improving the application of ILI and NDE data to drive integrity decisions. Improved results in the field will lead to improved decision-making to protect the environment and public safety.