Pipeline Standards Wars

Why have one standard when you can have two? And why get along, when you can engage in trench warfare? Oil IT Journal observed the fun and fireworks at meetings of the ISAT and PODS user groups. Pipeliners are big-time consumers of GIS and whichever model is used, the results, in terms of geographic impact, are pretty convincing.

In the beginning was the Gas Research Institute – a well-endowed government body with budget and mandate to perform R&D to support the US gas industry. What better project for such an organization than a pipeline data model? Thus was born the Integrated Spatial Analysis Techniques (ISAT) data model. ISAT defines a relational data structure for pipeline hierarchy, centerline, facilities, and related events such as line crossings and other ‘events.’ Note that ISAT does not per-se have a GIS component.

The ‘fork’

When the halcyon days of government- funded research ended, the Gas Research Institute, downsized into the Gas Technology Institute, was no longer capable of keeping a tight rein on ISAT. Meanwhile, a participant in the original project, MJ Harden, had built a successful graphical front end to the ISAT model – ‘PipeView.’ All this led to what the open source software folks would call a ‘fork’ – with one ‘ISAT’ still closely associated with MJ Harden and PipeView, and another ‘ISAT’ – ‘ISAT 2’ a.k.a. the Pipeline Open Data Standard (PODS) developing separately. The GTI appears to lend such weight as it has these days to the PODS flavor of ISAT. Both ISAT and PODS had informal user group meetings at the ESRI PUG.


ISAT 1 was designed to be GIS, database and application independent. While it had Intergraph leanings in its early days, now GIS extensions have been developed for Microstation/MGE, AutoCAD and ArcView. MJ Harden – who now maintain the model – claims that over 100,000 miles of pipeline are currently modeled in ISAT 1, that 19 companies use ISAT and 24 applications are based on the model. A new website is shortly to go live at www.isatmodel.org. ISAT offers queries such as “what locations have questionable CIS readings with numerous corrosion anomalies in class 3 or 4 areas.” The new ‘expanded ISAT’ meets increased reporting requirements from the Office of Pipeline Surveys (OPS). All graphical information is stored in SDE. A move to the ESRI GeoDatabase environment is planned.


The official rational behind PODS/ISAT 2 was to add liquid handling to the GRI gas-only data model and to better address business requirements. There were undoubtedly other reasons for the new modeling effort linked to MJ Harden’s dominance in the ‘ISAT 1’ world. GTI project manager Keith Leewis officially handed over the intellectual property of the ISAT data model to PODS (on a non-exclusive basis), along with the www.isat.org website. More from www.pods.org.

Killer app.

Whatever standard you favor, GIS is a real ‘killer app.’ for the pipeline community. ‘Alignment sheets’ show dents, buckles and corrosion as measured by pig surveys against backdrops of photo imagery and vector plots of pipeline route and land use. Spatial queries are particularly useful in correlating parameters such as corrosion risk with environmental sensitivity.

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