Smart Pipelines? (iPIPE) incentivizes private industry to create smarter & safer pipelines

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Companies can spend tens of millions on R&D for safer smarter pipelines so they can save hundreds of millions by preventing spills.

Nearly 23,000 miles of pipelines run across North Dakota to get billions of barrels of oil and gas to out-of-state markets. A spill by Tesoro in Tioga in 2013 cost the company $100 million dollars in clean-up.

For this week’s KX Ag and Energy Insight, we explore how companies can spend tens of millions on R&D for safer smarter pipelines so they can save hundreds of millions by preventing spills.

A focus of the 2021 Williston Basin Petroleum Conference last week was smart pipeline technology.

“We went to industry and we said look we want to seek innovation not regulation in terms of coming up with solutions,” explained Governor Doug Burgum.

Back in 2017, coming off of the NoDAPL protest, Governor Burgum challenged industry to think outside of the box to apply innovation to prevent and detect gathering pipeline leaks.

The intelligent Pipeline Integrity Program or (iPIPE), a consortium of energy leaders was created.

“We created a shark tank where people could propose ideas and then get matching dollars from the state for their R&D ideas, and the ideas that have come out of this thing have been absolutely incredible,” said Burgum.

Several vendors at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference showcased what are called pipers — that can be sent through new and old pipelines.


“They have all kinds of sensors, they can do ultrasound, ultrasonic, they can do heat and temperature pressure. They can be recording all of that. They can record speed. You can pull all of this innovation. You can detect where there was a flaw in a pipeline ahead of time as opposed to having the early warning detection be after you have a leak.”

Another group, Satelytics, uses satellites to detect ground spills as small as 5 gallons.

A new development is smart paint. When painted on seams it can detect irregualarities far in advance of a spill ever happening.

“We gave a shout out last week at the Petroleum Conference to encourage not just pipeline companies but any oil company that moves product by it to also participate and help support the iPIPE research because they’re already the safest way to move product in the country but we can make them a lot better with the cool technology that’s right here,” said Burgum.

All (iPIPE) research is conducted in partnership University of North Dakota’s Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC).

The next big push is to secure iPIPE funding for technology that merges pipeline big data with Artificial Intelligence.

The intelligent Pipeline Integrity Program (iPIPE) is an industry-led consortium whose focus is to contribute to the advancement of near-commercial, emerging technologies to prevent and detect gathering pipeline leaks. 

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