Book Review: Pipeline Spatial Data Modeling and Pipeline WebGIS

Zhenpei Li’s book describes ‘PSDM’, a pipeline data model developed for China’s Yong-Hu-Ning long-distance pipeline. The book includes a short history of pipeline GIS, Li places pipeline GIS in the context of Al Gore’s 1998 ‘Digital Earth’. PSDM is a Chinese localization of the Esri APDM pipeline data model.

A new book*, authored by Chinese researcher Zhenpei Li**, titled ‘Pipeline Spatial Data Modeling and Pipeline WebGIS’ (PWG), provides in-depth coverage of the development of a pipeline data model that extends and adapts Esri’s technology to the non-US (Chinese) market. The 164-page publication is translated from the Chinese in a readable fashion and is Volume 1 in a series titled ‘Digital Oil and Gas Pipeline: Research and Practice’.

PWG enumerates a few GIS environments as Esri, MapInfo, Intergraph MGE, and China’s own SuperMap (see our report from the SuperMap UG elsewhere in this issue). There is no mention of open source GIS systems. In fact, PWG is pretty well 100% Esri. Li has been using the technology for a couple of decades. PWG sets out to establish a Pipeline Spatial Data Model (PSDM) and its implementation in a) ArcGIS/ArcObjects and b) using ‘WebGIS’ technology.

The introduction is interesting from a historical viewpoint. Li places pipeline GIS in the context of the ‘Digital Earth’, an idea that was floated by Al Gore back in 1998. Li seems to have drunk more deeply of the Digital Earth Kool-Aid than his US counterparts, describing the US National Spatial Data Infrastructure as the ‘commanding height’ of the present technology. The Digital Earth trope is further expanded to cover digital cities, digital universities, digital enterprises, digital communities and … digital oil fields. Al Gore has a lot to answer for!

Li’s research was devoted to producing a spin-out of the digital earth, the digital pipeline, a ‘virtual, interactive expression of the pipeline, which collects natural and social information concerning the pipeline’. The digital pipeline (DP) collects a large amount of multiresolution, multi-scale, and 3D geospatial information. Core technologies span remote sensing, GPS, GIS, SCADA, communications and reality technology. DP is broken down into three systems: survey and design, construction and operations. A pipeline information database comprises the core of the system, storing, managing and sharing data across the pipeline’s life cycle.

Early examples of DP systems include the US Pipeline Safety Administration’s National Pipeline Mapping System (NPMS), Italian SNAM and Gasunie of the Netherlands. A significant system developed by General Electric and Accenture, dubbed the ‘Intelligent pipeline solution’ was deployed by Columbia Pipeline in 2015. Such systems inspired various Chinese operators to deploy DP systems extended to include construction data, steel pipe delivery, weld progress and more. China’s Huawei has rolled out a digital pipeline information and communications technology solution, adding a communications layer adapted to the long distances involved.

PWG’s payload comes in the form of three sections, the proposed data model, its implementation in ‘component GIS’ (with ArcObjects and ArcGIS Server) and as a web-based system. Li’s ‘Pipeline Spatial Data Model (PSDM) is based on APDM, the ArcGIS Pipeline Data Model. PSDM also considers the design concepts of PODS and ISAT as ‘important references’. PSDM extends and improves APDM with support for real-time data including scada, modular pipeline elements, and coverage of fire protection, repair and maintenance. PSDM is an ESRI Geodatabase that has been adapted for Chinese domestic best practices. PSDM is delivered as a Unified Modeling Language (UML) file that can generate a geodatabase using the ArcGIS Case Tools extension.

When it comes to web GIS, Li has some interesting comments on the state of the art. GIS interoperability is plagued by different data formats and software systems. There is a need to ‘unify the GIS data format and software interfaces’. Here the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) is working on standards such as GML, the Geography Markup Language (GML). However, according to Li, ‘GML has limited support for large spatial data sets***’. Moreover, ‘current OGC standards are not practical enough, and manufacturers will adopt their own GIS data formats and software systems for a long time’. Li’s fallback position is to plough-on with Esri technology. PWG’s web services are implemented with ArcObjects. This does mean that the interoperability issue remains unsolved and that PWG is now competing with the very comprehensive information on ArcObjects development that Esri itself provides.

The summary reads rather like a project final report, the author developed the PSDM for China’s Yong-Hu-Ning long-distance pipeline. Localizing APDM meant adding modules for landslides, unfavorable geology, debris flow and ecological protection. The as yet unpublished Volume 2 in the series will cover pipeline real-time data Integration and virtual reality systems’.

On the downside, while there are plenty of code snippets in the book, the UML for the PSDM does not appear to be publicly available. One wonders why a Chinese localization of an Esri APDM data model merits an English translation. The inevitable delay between development, publication (in Chinese), translation and publication by Springer means that much here is out of data relative to Esri’s constantly evolving technology. It is also somewhat out of data in terms of cloud deployment and terminology. On which topic, Al Gore’s digital earth spiel from 1998 could be cut and pasted into any of today’s marketing material for the ‘digital twin’. Whether 20 years of IT evolution has really brought us any closer to the ideal is moot.

* Pipeline Spatial Data Modeling and Pipeline WebGIS Springer 2020.

** Department of Surveying and Mapping Engineering Southwest Petroleum University Chengdu, Sichuan, China.

*** It is questionable that GML is thus limited. Maybe Li’s analysis is a bit out of date.

This article originally appeared in Oil IT Journal 2020 Issue # 5.

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