Pipeline tech? Communications, communications, communications

ABB/TANAP present on southern gas corridor, the silk road of energy. Ovarro RTUs monitor CNPC’s China-Russia crude pipeline.

If you had to say what technology was key to pipeline operations you could choose from scada/process control, AI, GIS, digital twins, and more. But recent announcements and presentations have led us to believe that the key to pipeline operations is … communications.

Speaking at an ABB webinar last year, Ömer Korkmaz and Yakup Yilmaz (TANAP) presented the building of the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline, a 56” line that takes Azeri gas to Europe along the Southern Gas Corridor a.k.a the ‘silk road of energy’. The 1,850km line provides some 5% of Europe’s energy needs and said to be ‘one of the longest gas pipelines in the world’ and includes ‘one of the largest ever integrated telecoms, security and scada systems illustrating the benefits that modern communications bring to pipeline security and control’. TANAP is considered by the EU as a ‘Projects of Common Interest’, benefitting from public funds because of its ‘contribution to the EU climate goals’. Natural gas is considered a bridging fuel.

Building the pipeline involved traversing ‘exciting but challenging’ terrain with elevation from -65m subsea to 2,760m asl. There were 115,000 landowners involved and some 230,000 documents held at the control center. Three scada systems cover pipeline operations, leak detection and intrusion monitoring, all linked with dual fiber optic cables along with VSAT backup.

Ian Holden (ABB) explained how the fiber comms cable doubles as an intrusion sensor that monitors the whole pipeline leveraging digital acoustic sensing. This, along with CCTV and a ‘huge amount’ of pipeline data feeds into the control room. High bandwidth communications have avoided the need for a control system at each station. In TANAP, control system and scada are one and the same. This has ‘saved countless hours of integration and testing’. Holden recommends, ‘If fiber is available, consider a single control system’.


In a separate announcement, Ovarro reported the supply of 22 of its TBox-MS modular remote telemetry units to PetroChina Pipeline Co.’s China-Russia crude oil pipeline. A second, 800km pipeline has brought crude oil flows from Russia to China to 30 million tonnes per year. The units, which functioned in temperatures of -43°C provide monitoring and control of data and events on the pipeline while also reducing maintenance and repair costs. RTUs address the issue of operating a pipeline over a large network of remote fixed assets. In the event of a communications failure, the RTU’s data loggers ‘ensuring that critical data from the field is not missed’.

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