Julie Hatfield, Senior Director, Emerson, and Ron Beck, Senior Director, AspenTech
environment in which pipelines must operate is changing rapidly and
dramatically, as constant shifts in the global marketplace have underscored a
need for increasing flexibility.
example, many midstream operators are strategically evaluating the
opportunities to convert pipelines to transportation of hydrogen and carbon
dioxide (CO2). Today, some natural gas distribution companies are
looking at the feasibility of mixing up to 20% hydrogen into their existing
pipeline networks. To accomplish this, teams must be more flexible in both
their operation and monitoring.
that need for flexibility is arriving just as experienced personnel retire in
droves, and new staff members are becoming harder to find and retain. Add to
those challenges an increasing international requirement for more sustainable
operations and a need for more cybersecurity from the field to the control
room, and it can quickly start to feel as though pipeline operators will never
just as operations become more complex, digitalization is evolving at a record
pace to meet these new needs.
best industrial digitalization solutions are helping teams digitally transform
their pipeline operations to better support changing needs and dynamics across
their fleets. The organizations that embrace this transformation will be
positioned to meet that future head-on, more easily navigating the complexity,
security, and regulatory issues that will arise as the marketplace shifts to
of the key driving factors behind the need for more flexibility in pipeline
operations is the increased global call from both the public and investors for
more sustainable energy production. Corporate entities are not only striving to
meet these goals, but are doing so publicly, typically by announcing
commitments to reach net zero emissions within the next ten to twenty years.
setting net zero sustainability goals and actually meeting them are two vastly
different things, and the latter effort typically falls on operations and
maintenance teams for planning and execution. At the heart of successful
execution of more sustainable operations and maintenance is good data that
provides comprehensive visibility to what is happening across the pipeline – a goal
that is becoming more challenging as experienced personnel become scarcer.
many organizations track their CO2 emissions on spreadsheets, a task
they complete quarterly or even annually. Often, this results in teams not
having a clear picture until the end of the year as to whether they met their
commitments or not. And if they did not meet their commitments, they go into
the next year behind the curve and typically fall further and further behind as
part of a continuous cycle.
the spreadsheets used to track emissions are often complex, making them time-consuming
to populate, especially if the person filling them out has limited experience.
And when the person who originally created the spreadsheet leaves the
organization, it is likely only usable until one of the complex macros
calculating data breaks, at which point data collection is often left
unperformed or underperformed, due to the loss of expertise and experience
necessary to assemble and merge data across the assets.
an organization trying to achieve a 5% annual reduction in emissions. If the
team is tracking its data by checking spreadsheets occasionally throughout the
year – which leaves it unable to track and trend data effectively – it might
miss a compressor station that is putting out 10% of the company’s total carbon
emissions. And even if the team does catch the emissions by the end of the
year, it has already lost significant ground toward net zero goals in the time
that passed before discovery.
the other hand, if the team identifies the issue in real time, personnel can make
operational adjustments to ensure the organization meets targets, rather than
only discovering the problem after the target has been missed.
first step to making it easier to drive sustainable operations is to move
beyond spreadsheets to more regular collection of data through a modern
supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) solution. As teams add the
complexity to their operations that comes with advanced processes, such as
moving hydrogen and CO2 through pipelines, they need constant access
to the right data at the right time, and with full context to ensure critical
information is understood and actionable.
best SCADA solutions will bring operational data from the field to operators in
real time wherever they are – in the control room or located remotely. Using a
secure web interface, best-in-class SCADA solutions present information so it
can be interpreted easily and intuitively by every operator, regardless of
experience level. Teams can much more easily track, trend, and analyze data
when they can access it in real time from anywhere (Figure 1).
even if they are actively collecting the data – which some companies are via
SCADA solutions – teams also need the expertise and time to perform
calculations on that data to accurately report across the entire network and its
associated assets, according to the rules of each regulatory jurisdiction.
Pipeline operations are complex.
team may need to work with a 1,000-mile pipeline that spans four different
states and two countries. Across those thousand miles, they might have different
equipment in each part of the pipeline, and different types of fuel based on
what is available in each area.
example, consider a pipeline that uses 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel to run a compressor
close to the origination point, but is using natural gas to fuel another
compressor further down the line. In addition, other pumps may be electrical,
with a choice of grid or renewable power. Across those many different pieces of
equipment, the team needs to perform the complex calculations required to turn
the amount of burned fuel into a carbon calculation in an auditable fashion.
calculation process gets even more complicated as product crosses state and
country lines. If a hydrogen and gas mix moves from California to Wyoming to
North Dakota to Canada, each jurisdiction may have different requirements. For
example, the emissions calculations are rigorous in California and Canada, but
different, and more minimal, in Wyoming and North Dakota. Each step in the
process necessitates different calculations, all of which makes consistent
as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission puts reporting requirements in
place, financial auditors will begin performing carbon emissions audits, with
new rules promulgated by the International Sustainability Standards Board
introduced on June 26. Along with normal financial audits, emissions calculations
will need to be inspectable and transparent to meet those requirements.
of the digitalization software packages that seamlessly integrate into modern
SCADA systems can make this monitoring and trending easier for teams that are
short on analyst support. Many of today’s most successful organizations are
using pipeline management software to gather real-time operational intelligence
across their pipelines.
management software uses simulation to turn complex pipeline data into
intuitive charts, graphs, and maps that can be understood by operators of any
experience level. Using these tools, operators more easily gain visibility into
operations to know where product is at any given moment, what state or
condition it is in, and how it will impact the system further down the line (Figure
are also using modeling technology to improve safety, leak detection and
optimization. If a team manages varying or different sources, operations and
risk management can quickly ramp up in complexity. Using digital modeling
tools, operators can quickly see how each product is flowing through the
pipeline, identify and confirm ownership, and measure its carbon intensity.
fit-for-purpose tools in the modeling system calculate mass balance and identify
what is lost via fugitive emissions or leaks. These granular calculations are
performed automatically in the background, empowering personnel to focus their
time on higher-value tasks.
can also use modeling and simulation tools across the whole network to
determine how to use the network most effectively. By running multiple
simulations faster than would be possible in real time operations, teams can
quickly and easily see what operational changes will deliver the best
can then not only drive the best economic outcomes across different products
delivered to different customers – a critical strategy to staying flexible to
meet market needs – but also make long-term strategic decisions. This might
include decisions related to expanding the system or transforming an existing
system to convey alternative materials, such as CO2, and what rates to charge
as a carrier.
successful teams are using software to deliver predictive prescriptive
maintenance, further reducing time spent on low-value-add tasks. With contextualized
data from the SCADA, teams can use analytics to predict pipeline health, and to
prevent downtime and incidents.
can quickly see the performance of compressors and pumps, for example, and easily
identify degradation of the pipeline – a task that will become even more
critical as new, more sustainable products put additional stress on new and existing
teams move to automated, predictive maintenance, they can intervene before
small problems become catastrophic failures, which not only create
environmental incidents but also require unscheduled shutdowns for
is less expensive because it occurs before excessive damage has been done to
equipment or has impacted operational performance, and because companies can
better schedule maintenance to eliminate costs associated with unexpected
addition to concerns about more sustainable operation, teams must also find
ways to improve cybersecurity. The days of security through obscurity are gone,
as recent high-profile attacks on pipelines have proved. Pipelines can no
longer fly under the radar. and in many cases, they will need to comply with increasingly
strict cybersecurity rules from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)
and other entities.
operations do not happen by default, as teams instead need to intentionally
implement systems with embedded best-in-class security. They require systems
that can be rapidly and safely updated to react to threats, often identified by
governing bodies in the cybersecurity industry. But they also need to ensure
that in updating systems, they do not interrupt operations.
meet this need, many of today’s most successful organizations are responding to
new cyber threats by implementing SCADA systems with intuitive, built-in
cybersecurity features fully certified by FERC. The commission issues required
fixes for every known risk the government identifies. As those fixes are
released, providers of certified solutions deliver intuitive updates so security
teams can patch systems with as little disruption as possible.
while securing systems is important, security must also be extended all the way
to the field. For that reason, many top performers are also implementing DNP3
secure authentication to more securely transmit critical data from remote
terminal units (RTUs) in the field to the SCADA system in the control room. When
operators perform critical pipeline transactions, like writing outputs to
valves or shutting down devices, the DNP3 protocol requires authentication
between the SCADA and the RTU to prevent external tampering.
ensure this authentication does not hamper availability and performance, most
DNP3 communication is unencrypted, with encryption only being applied for
sensitive activities (Figure 3).
more and more organizations make promises to reach net zero emissions within
ten to twenty years, regulations are coming to help ensure those claims are
provable. Soon, teams will need to be able to provide concrete and auditable
data to support the claims made by corporate offices. And this data will not
only need to be provided to federal regulators but also to investors.
a result, corporate offices will require increasing transparency of data and
reports. Operations teams will need pipeline data management systems that can
seamlessly share data across the enterprise – and those tools will need the
capacity to share not only the results but also the calculation methods.
increasing scrutiny means organizations need to be more careful than ever about
pipeline integrity. Operations teams will need powerful modeling tools for flow
and safety analysis. They will need to look at different conditions in the
pipeline and flag them, and they will also need to connect that data to the
SCADA for operator awareness.
example, if changes or replacements are being made in pipeline assets – such as
pumping, storage, or compressor systems – teams can use modeling tools to
identify integrity and safety risks. For example, required capacities of
pressure relief valves may need to be recalculated using rigorous models to
re-certify the system after changes.
digitalization becomes even more important as companies move to CO2 and hydrogen
transport, at which point they will rely on powerful industrial software
packages to perform blowdown and pressure safety analysis, along with other
decisions pipeline operators make in the coming years will have a significant
impact on their success and longevity. Consequently, today is the right time to
start building a foundation for more flexible, sustainable operation – and that
foundation starts with digitalization technologies. Fortunately, implementing a
new digitalization foundation unlocking increased sustainability is more than
an expense. When well planned and executed, it is an investment.
teams that have the most success will be the ones that select technologies
based on their ability to drive value across the lifecycle. By focusing on
reducing complexity, increasing security, and improving their ability to meet
regulations, teams can build a strong digitalization foundation that will not
only improve operations today but also position the organization for greater
success in the coming decades. P&GJ
Hatfield is the senior director, product management and marketing at
Emerson. She has over 30 years’ experience implementing enterprise software
applications in midstream pipeline and terminal businesses. Hatfield has a BBA
in Information Systems Management from St. Mary’s University of San Antonio, Texas,
and an MBA from Our Lady of the Lake University of San Antonio.
Ron Beck is senior director for solutions
marketing at Aspen Technology. His focus is working with global energy and
chemical companies on digitalization of sustainability and decarbonization
pathways. Beck has over forty years’ experience in the intersection between the
energy industry, digital technology, and environmental science. He earned a BA
in biology from Princeton University.