A day in the life of Pipeline Superintendent Claude O'Berry
As he soars in Basin Electric’s airplanes over the hills and valleys of western North Dakota and southern Saskatchewan, Canada, Claude O’Berry, Dakota Gasification Company pipeline superintendent, has one thing on his mind: the integrity of the carbon dioxide (CO2) pipeline.
Basin Electric’s pilots fly low enough so that O’Berry can carefully view the 205-mile stretch of 12- and 14-inch-diameter pipeline that carries CO2 from Dakota Gas’ Great Plains Synfuels Plant near Beulah, ND, to the oil fields of southern Saskatchewan. The CO2 is used for enhanced oil production in Canada, where the older oil fields can pump out up to three times as much oil by injecting CO2 into the deep crevices of the oil wells.
Dakota Gas owns and operates four sections of pipelines: the CO2 line to Canada, and three sections of synthetic natural gas (SNG) pipelines, totaling about 245 miles of pipeline. Per federal regulations, Dakota Gas is required to inspect the CO2 line 26 times per year, in two-week intervals, and the SNG lines once per year.
“It is very important to carefully inspect the pipeline route as early detection of an issue can save us from a major problem,” O’Berry says. Before taking flight, Basin Electric’s pilots punch in the coordinates of the pipeline so they fly along the exact pipeline route.
O’Berry and the rest of the pipeline team, including supervisors Dave Knoll and Kurt Dutchuk, and pipeline operators Rod Freije, Lewis Hinckley, Kurt Kordonowy, Craig Mattheis and Scott Olson, diligently work to keep the pipelines running smoothly and safely.
The team alternates inspecting the pipeline in order to get different perspectives of the pipeline condition and its surroundings, O’Berry says.
During the biweekly flight of the CO2 pipeline’s right of way – which runs 25 feet on either side of the pipeline – O’Berry looks for dead vegetation or frost on the ground, indicating the pipeline is leaking CO2. He also looks for downed fence lines or signs, washed-out areas or third-party contractors doing unauthorized work within the pipeline right-of-way. Flying the pipeline to Canada and back takes about three hours.
“In 2011, we were conducting our biweekly flyover of the CO2 pipeline when we noticed a landslide that resulted in a large portion of our pipeline being exposed and sagging, causing undo stress and jeopardizing the pipe integrity,” O’Berry says. “Had we not been out there flying the route, months could have went by before we detected the exposure.”
Federal regulations mandate pipeline maintenance and operation. One requirement is to perform an in-line inspection (ILI), or “pigging,” every five years to monitor the effectiveness of the company’s program.
“Pigging the pipeline” refers to the practice of using pipeline inspection gauges, or pigs, to perform various maintenance operations without stopping the flow of product in the pipeline.
This process is done in at least three phases; first a wiper pig is used to clean the pipe, then a gauge tool is used to verify the clearances before a final run is made by an electronic or smart pig.
O’Berry says Dakota Gas pigs a section of pipeline every year, and sometimes twice per year.
According to O’Berry, a lot of research and design tweaks have improved the process and quality of data collected over the years.
“Because of the nature of our carbon dioxide gas stream, we have had many challenges pigging the carbon dioxide pipeline,” O’Berry says. “We’ve made great strides in improving the pipeline pigging process and collecting valuable data to ensure long-term safety and reliability of our pipeline.”
O’Berry says when pipeline anomalies are found, the first objective is to make repairs to keep the pipeline operational. “We investigate the cause so adjustments can be made to our integrity program to help prevent future occurrences,” he says.
Another aspect of operating a pipeline is public awareness. O’Berry and his team attend meetings and sponsor events across the state.
“We sponsor events like the 811 Day at the (North Dakota State) Fair as part of our Public Awareness Program,” O’Berry says. “It’s a great way to educate the public and get the ‘Call Before You Dig’ word out.”
O’Berry says third-party damage is the leading cause of pipeline failures, which can occur when the general public is not aware of what is beneath them before starting work.
Whether flying the pipeline, pigging the pipeline or simply running daily operations, O’Berry says the team’s first priority is to ensure the integrity of the lines are viable for long-term use without incident.
Using a newly designed in-line inspection tool or “combo pig” on a stretch of the CO2 pipeline running from the Synfuels Plant to Tioga, ND, recently saved a substantial amount of money.
The combo pig, used in February, takes the place of two pigs previously used on the pipeline to detect anomalies and collect data.
“Using the combo pig allows us to gather all the data with one run, and costs us less than one-third of what we normally pay for pigging the pipeline,” O’Berry says.
With austerity in mind, O’Berry says he and his team are always looking for ways to save money, yet accomplish the same goals.