GITA Oil and Gas conference “Pipeline GIS”

The 11th annual Geospatial Information & Technology Association (GITA) was held in Houston last month. The well-attended show is the home of pipeline GIS. The pipeline industry is under growing regulatory pressure to manage pipeline safety in a transparent and rigorous manner. Geographical Information Systems are proving a ‘killer app’ to pipeline operators in underpinning the gathering and reporting of diverse data—from intelligent pigs and in-line inspection—along with cultural context, such as locations of ‘high consequence areas’ like centers of population. Some sophisticated applications allow for spill modeling—taking account of pipeline configurations and digital terrain models.

The GITA GIS for Oil & Gas conference, held in Houston was well attended with nearly 600 registered and some 50 exhibitors. Two things are changing the way the US pipeline industry manages its data. Regulatory pressure is mandating pipeline inspection programs. These are designed initially to locate ‘high consequence areas’ (HCA) where there is a risk of significant environmental damage in the event of a spill. Operators are then expected to assess pipeline integrity using a variety of measurements—such as those available from modern ‘intelligent pigging systems.’ Ultimately, the locations of HCAs and the pipeline integrity will be used to design and implement a pipeline maintenance program.

GIS—the killer app!

The pipeline industry is a natural for geographic information systems. The traditional representation of a pipeline is the ‘alignment sheet’—a drafted document showing the route of the pipe on a map along with cultural information and engineering data. The alignment sheet has proved very amenable to computerization and many new programs are leveraging geographical information systems to the full. The computerized alignment sheet shows how GIS can truly qualify as the pipeline industry’s “killer app.”

Pipeline Integrity

Ed Wiegele (MJ Harden Associates) reports that, “Folks in the field are crying out for GIS-based information.” The basic idea is to be able to collect measurements into a central database and re-use it for different aspects of the business. Data should flow seamlessly in and out of the facilities data model to users. The alignment sheet of the past allowed a ‘canned’ view of 6 miles of information at a time. Now all the data is in the database. Ultimately, it will be possible to automate much if not all Department of Transportation (DOT) annual reporting. “Unfortunately there is more than one data model.”

Risk Analysis

Jerry Rau (CMS Energy) defined risk for the pipeline industry as the product of the probability of failure occurring and the consequence of such failure. Data visibility underpins the operator’s risk mitigation strategy. CMS uses ‘dynamic segmentation’ of pipes—risk is computed continually along the pipeline—a technique which is considered more representative than calculations performed on fixed-length segments. Bruce Nelson (Montana-Dakota Utilities Co.) outlined current and future regulatory pressures which are impacting operators. The Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) is about to extend its pipeline integrity management program requirements to gas transmission lines. Geographical Information Systems will play a key role in such managing such programs. MDU’s GIS is extends the PODS data model with an ESRI GeoDatabase developed by James W. Sewall Co. The new gas rule “will make the liquids rule look like a child’s story book.” Along with traditional in-line inspections and high tech intelligent pigging, Nelson advocates interviews with field employees who have lived and worked on the pipeline for years.

Handhelds in field

Ed Wiegele (MJ Harden) had a full house for the popular subject of handheld computing in the field. Wiegele noted that ‘fixing’ data after the fact is expensive, so it is preferable to give tools to field workers to let them perform quality data capture on the job. A subset of the ISAT database is copied to the handheld to ensure that feature types, code lists and symbologies etc. are recorded consistently. Data volumes are ‘no problem’ - 1 GB of storage for a Compaq iPAQ costing around $400.

Pipeline Safety

Mike Israni of the Office of Pipeline Safety outlined the current legislation framework. Initially, the requirement is to determine the location of high consequence areas (HCA). Subsequently an integrity management program will be developed to identify and evaluate threats. The next step is to select assessment technologies, perform risk assessment and finally, to undertake continuous evaluation and integrity management. Part of the OPS’ effort has been to revitalize the National Pipeline Mapping System. This used to be a voluntary system but will become mandatory under the new legislation. A facet of the NPMS is the Pipeline Integrity Management Mapping Application—a web-based tool available to operators, federal, state and local government.

Risk Assessment.

John Beets (MJ Harden) showed how tornado plots and dynamic segmentation are used to characterize risk. The MJH risk assessment model is due to John Kiefner & Associates and is a prioritization tool to optimize spending on safety. Beets estimates that 80-90% of risk assessment effort is spent on data collection.


Ron Brush (New Century Software) believes there are two, entrenched camps when it comes to the merits of the traditional alignment sheet (AS). On the one hand there is the ‘we don’t need it at all,’ GIS brigade – while others cannot do without it. There are ‘no sitters on the fence’. The AS is reliable and accessible—but update, distribution and search are problematical. Brush’s thesis is that as new technologies are deployed—offering increased connectivity to the field worker, the move to databased, AS-less systems is inevitable. Technologies to watch include wireless, Trimble’s GeoExplorer, WinCE, GPS and WAAS—wider area air navigation system for airplanes—offering metric accuracy. Other technologies which may facilitate an AS-less world include e-paper such as Xerox’ Gyricon and E-Ink. Brush polled the audience to see how many believed would be alignment-sheetless in 5 years time. 24 believed you will be able to go without AS in 5 years – but 54 think not.

EU Perspective

Edgar Sweet (Intergraph) offered a European perspective. The EU Gas Market changed following the 1998 Natural Gas Directive. This set the framework for free movement of natural gas, safety of supply, licensing for supply, transmission, storage and distribution. The directive intended to liberalize the EU gas market – an ambitious program for 4 years. There has been a lot of merger and acquisition activity as companies jockey for position in the newly deregulated market. This impacts the IT industry and argues in favor of enterprise-wide IT architectures, integrated applications, web and geospatial enablement. “GIS is an expectation”. A PwC study found that GIS was important in competitive differentiation, in facilitating outsourcing and supporting compliance.

Spill modeling

If there was any doubt as to the ‘killer app’ status of GIS in the pipeline industry it was dispelled by Nick Park’s (GeoFields) presentation on spill modeling. GeoFields uses a digital terrain model – obtained from maps, stereo photos, satellite data or LIDAR. Release volumes are computed as a function of terrain – with pooling in valleys, surplus volumes and pressure check valves. Hydrology data can be input or computed from elevation data. The results are plotted on a base map with population and geographical features using ArcScene and ArcInfo. By tracing spills downstream, high consequence areas at some distance from the pipe can be localized.

GIS middleware

German startup Ms.GIS’ CORE Pipeline GIS was used on the Baku Tbilisi-Ceyhan (NTC) pipeline. Ms.GIS is a kind of GIS middleware federating spatial data from disparate systems, using the OGIS standards. Ms.GIS interfaces with ESRI, MicroStation and Bentley—as well as with data in Microsoft Access or Excel etc. Ms.GIS claims to be ‘much faster’ than Oracle Spatial. Hitachi Software’s AnyGIS is also GIS middleware and it too leverages the OpenGIS ‘simple feature’ specification. AnyGIS V 2.5 was released this month and features an AutoCAD Map front end to data in other systems.

Small World – GE

GE’s SmallWorld for GIS-based asset management offers links to Oracle and SAP. A line sheet generation application has been developed in cooperation with West Coast Energy. Currently the data model is ISAT, but GE is working on PODS implementation which will be de-normalized for performance. SmallWorld also works with the OpenGIS specification. An OGIS compliant WebServices development is underway.

James W. Sewall Co.

The James W. Sewall Co. (JWS) has collaborated with ESRI on GIS software for maximum allowable operating pressure (MAOP) and HCA analysis using alignment sheets generated from the (PODS) database. JWS’ software includes ASGPipeline, an alignment sheet generator and a pipeline data management module, Class Locator and the MAOP calculator. Sewall released a PODS geodatabase two months ago but claims ‘database independence’ for its software. A JWS spokesperson told Oil IT Journal that “PODS is a natural progression of database technology.”

ProActive Group

ProActive’s Rapid Emergency Response System (R-ERS) determines which agencies and individuals are affected by a potential disaster. Written with ESRI MapObjects, R-ERS automates the production of emergency response reports and synopses from an HSE database. ProActive clients include ExxonMobil, PanCanadian, Conoco Canada and Marathon.

Map Frame

Map Frame’s FieldSmart software solves the synchronization problem for field operators by allowing operators to take all their data into the field. FieldSmart compresses a 40GB database down to 500MB. An intuitive interface on a ruggedized handheld device uses ‘gestual’ computing. A scrawled ‘C’ for center, ‘Z’ for zoom etc. The software makes data capture simple and fast for field engineers.


Mark Hurd Corp.’s software provides impressive fly-through of a 3D terrain model with draped bitmap imagery. Leica Geosystems unit Erdas Imagine provides general 3D visualization software which has been used by BP for pipeline route planning in the HIVE visionarium.

This article is a shortened version of a 12 page illustrated report on the GITA GIS in Oil and Gas Conference available as part of The Data Room’s Technology Watch Service. For more info on this, email

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