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Effective Leak Management In Gas

Distribution Utilities
DIMP Compliance
By Dean Kelley and Surya Chavali, Atlanta, GA | April 2011 Vol. 238 No. 4

Figure 1: Leak Ecosystem.

There is a growing need for availability of accurate data for gas distribution utilities to
help devise programs that maintain and operate pipeline assets. For example,
distribution integrity management program (DIMP) regulations require gas distribution
utilities in the United States to be able to 1) know the risks in their system, 2) identify
various threats in the system, and 3) be able to mitigate the same. Having an effective
pipeline leak management process along with supporting IT systems will help cater to
the regulatory requirements and also maintain a safe and reliable gas distribution
This article is structured to discuss some of the key business processes and IT systems
that help collect, analyze and report data. The article discusses: 1) entities that form the
leak ecosystem within a gas distribution utility, 2) examples of proactive leak
maintenance, 3) different systems that help capture and analyze the data to devise a
proactive maintenance plan, 4) sample functional implementation architecture
highlighting the functions and communication among these systems, and 5) sample
classification of the leak management process maturity. This classification can help gas
utilities to identify and focus on areas of improvement.
Leak Ecosystem
In a gas distribution utility, the key entities that form the pipeline leak ecosystem are
customer, operator and regulator. Each has an important and responsible role to play in
order to ensure that the community has a safe and reliable gas distribution system. As
shown in the Figure 1, there are multiple events occurring in the ecosystem that
necessitate an interaction and transfer of data among customer, operator and regulator.

Proactive Leak Maintenance

Items of note involved in proactive leak maintenance:

Leak Classification;
Survey leaks Leaks that are identified through a process of proactively
surveying the distribution pipeline network for leaks on a periodic basis. The
leak survey frequency and subsequent leak repair schedule can be driven by the
compliance rules mandated by regulator.
Emergency leaks Leaks due to damages that require an immediate attention
leading to pipeline repair to neutralize the leak. Damages can be minimized by
adopting damage prevention activities such as accurate locates and obtaining
permits. Having damage prevention specialists to check on underground projects
to make sure proper procedures are being followed also helps prevent damages.
Sample proactive maintenance - Proactive maintenance includes activities such
as taking observations and readings of the distribution pipeline from the field;
plotting leaks on a GIS-based mapping system; identifying leak causes. This
information can help in taking appropriate action ahead of time to prevent a
potential hazard. For example: Aldehyde plastic becomes brittle over a period of
time; having the material information will help to identify the cause of leaks and
prepare an action to replace the segment with a different material. Capturing
pipe-to-soil readings on metal pipe will help identify areas where the cathodic
protection needs to be addressed. Similarly, capturing the leak cause will help in
devising necessary training if the leak is due to an employee not following
proper procedure. Capturing data associated with leak-repair methods employed
to repair leaks will help determine if a pipeline segment needs to be replaced; for
example, if there are too many clamps on a pipeline segment, it may be worth
replacing it.

It is obvious from the examples that, with proper usage of data, gas utilities can
determine and implement a proactive action plan to prevent a potential hazard.
However, the key is availability of relevant data to help take such decisions. Gas
utilities need to deploy business processes and IT systems to help capture data at
different levels.
Business Processes And IT Systems
Leak management can be described as a three step process: Identify --> Investigate -->
Mitigate. There are different business processes that make up each of these steps. The
table shown in Figure 2 maps the different business processes that are part of leak
management and relevant IT systems that can help automate the business processes.

Figure 2: Mapping of Business Processes and IT systems.

Typical Functional Architecture
There is no single system that can - on its own - totally help in managing the leaks.
Utilities would have to look at a combination of systems that integrate with one another
to provide and process data. Figure 3 depicts typical functional architecture that can be
considered for this implementation.
Figure 3: Sample Functional Architecture.

Table 1: IT systems and description.

Leak Management Maturity

Gas utilities that have not actively implemented systems automation and are handling
the processes manually will find that, with DIMP regulation, there will be a need to
gather and process data in abundance.

Figure 4: Leak Management Maturity depiction.

This article has tried to build a sample guide that can be adopted to move up the process
maturity of pipeline leak management. Figure 4 classifies the maturity into multiple
levels - Level 0 through Level 5. Level 0 indicates that the gas utility has deployed none
or minimal automation and most of the business processes are through manual
transactions. Level 5 indicates the highest level of maturity wherein the gas utility has
implemented various systems and is successfully able to process data for DIMP
reporting and other regulatory needs through automation.
Dean Kelley is a senior business analyst with AGL Resources, Atlanta, GA. He has 33
years of experience in gas distribution operations. In his current role he ensures that the
companys Field Operation and IT Systems work together. He also helps test system
updates and changes and responds to production problems. He can be reached at
Surya Chavali is lead consultant with Infosys Technologies Limited, Atlanta. He has 11
years of experience in IT consulting, primarily with U.S. gas and electric utilities. He
has performed in different roles as solution architect, functional consultant and project
manager. He can be reached at: suryas_chavali@infosys.com.