PG&E Gets a Grip on Pipeline Debris Problem

Priscilla Johnson

Content Marketing Lead

In a gas pipeline, a small amount of foreign debris can result in a big problem. So when an inspection tool returned from a pipeline missing some of its caliper parts, Pacific Gas and Electric’s Robert de Haas had to get creative to find a way to retrieve it.

“It’s not a big problem to have debris in the pipeline for normal gas operations but it is a problem when the pipeline is inspected with sensor tools,” said de Haas. “These tools are very complex, expensive, and debris left in the pipeline can cause damage to the sensors (resulting in) loss of or erroneous data. In addition, we are responsible for damage caused to the tool while in our pipeline.”

Pacific Gas and Electric is the largest investor-owned utility in the U.S., providing natural gas and electricity services to more than 16 million people in northern California.

Since the debris was known to not be ferromagnetic, and planning excavations to access the pipeline is costly and uses considerable resources, takes a lot of time, and requires permits, de Haas suggested to his gas integrity management group that PG&E’s Inuktun Versatrax 300™ be deployed with the addition of Inuktun’s four-function manipulator.

“I think the strength of Inuktun is that they are able to bring a concept to life, and with great flexibility, innovation and ingenuity,” said de Haas. “We are looking forward to teaming up with Inuktun to solve our next challenge.”

Inuktun’s engineering manager Richelle Eck traveled to San Ramon to assist, and together the team overcame schedule constraints and vehicle configurations to make the project a success. Once mounted to the front of the VT300, the bends became too tight for the crawler to pass through. Eck, with support from her team in Nanaimo, modified the vehicle to allow it to pass through the pipe.

Our client deemed the operation successful even though all of the missing parts were not located,” said de Haas. “We were able to locate and remove one item that we were not immediately aware of that would have caused a problem and/or damage to the sensor tool run scheduled for the near future. “

Robert praised the gripper arm for being precise, easy to operate, and flexible while maintaining a strong grip.

“We were able to remove the debris without any problem,” he said.

Inuktun has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with PG&E, providing standard off-the-shelf video inspection equipment as well as custom, one-of-a-kind enhancements to its crawler systems. Currently, PG&E employs Versatrax 150™ and Versatrax 300™ systems used primarily for gas pipeline or hydro penstock inspections, and a custom low-profile magnetic crawler used in its nuclear station to inspect reactor heads.

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