HIGH RISK ON THE HIGH SEAS: Marine operators are using new technology tools such as centralized shoreside risk management programs to protect remote pipelines and oil rigs from threats.

Author:Castaneda, Mat

Risk managers in the oil and gas industry must protect against the threats that vessels pose to their offshore assets located in marine environments, from hydrocarbon pipelines that traverse miles of navigable waterways to oil rigs and other marine assets scattered across remote locations.

Establishing an effective real-time risk monitoring program can be expensive, however, diverting resources from the core business in a very competitive market. Many operators are now taking a more economical, data-driven approach, using solutions that combine a variety of sensor inputs into a centralized risk management platform operated by shoreside teams. These inputs include radar, camera, weather monitor and VHF communications, in addition to the Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals that vessels routinely transmit and that have been used for over a decade to improve vessel safety and logistics. With this common operational view of all vessel activity, shoreside teams can then assess risks to pipelines, cables, offshore platforms and other fixed marine structures, and use powerful alerting tools to mitigate these risks in real time.

Vessel Threats to Submerged Pipelines

While many pipelines are suitably marked on navigational maps to warn vessel crews of their presence, sometimes this is insufficient to avoid collisions.

Pipelines can be damaged when vessels drop items (usually anchors or anchor chains) onto a section of the submerged asset. Vessels can also damage pipelines when they "spud," which is a form of barge anchoring that involves driving long pilings into the mud. When vessels collide with an offshore platform or other ships and then sink, this too can damage the pipelines below.

Any of these incidents could have severe consequences. A pipeline strike near a rig could be a safety threat to the rig crew. If it leads to a spill, the incident could jeopardize the entire operation. Even if there is no immediate damage, each incident creates uncertainty and may require that the asset be shut down pending a full assessment. Pipeline damage can lead to expensive unplanned surveys and repairs and might even shut down the waterway. This can be especially problematic in inland waterways with heavy vessel traffic. Even worse, there might be serious environmental impacts, along with injuries or even deaths, followed by a lengthy process of investigations and legal actions.

Historically, monitoring vessel activities near an operator's pipeline was limited to the random sightings of threats during overflights or when a field technician or surveyor happened to come across a vessel during routine work activity. In some cases, vessels have knowingly impacted a submerged pipeline and caused significant damage, and the pipeline operator had no idea who was responsible or when the pipeline was damaged.

Vessel Threats to Rigs and Other Remote Assets

Vessels are a critical part of operations, but they can also pose a major...

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