Six ways to understand pipeline TVC right from the start

Programs to document new natural gas transmission pipeline infrastructure can have greater value to operators and project teams through comprehensive planning and collaboration

By David Taylor and Hareep Rana February 5, 2024
Courtesy: Dewberry

 

Learning Objectives

  • Gain insights and best practices related to TVC documentation and its importance to utilities.
  • Learn the critical role of planning and creating relevant and usable TVC records.
  • Understand the importance of communication to maintaining the integrity of the TVC process.

 

TVC insights

  • The article discusses the importance of traceable, verifiable and complete (TVC) documentation in ensuring the safety of onshore natural gas transmission pipelines.
  • It highlights six tips, including understanding individual roles in TVC, striving for standardization in documentation, adopting scalable processes, using various communication channels, facilitating the final TVC “handshake” and emphasizing the commitment of all project team members to the program’s success.

Nearly five years after the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) published new regulations aimed at improving the safety of onshore natural gas transmission pipelines, the acronym “TVC” (traceable, verifiable and complete) is becoming firmly ingrained in the industry lexicon.

Building on the agency’s 2003 Gas Transmission Integrity Management rule, subsequent advisory bulletins and longstanding industry best practices, TVC documentation allows accountability for the safety of this critical infrastructure by providing a complete chain of documentation of all system components from design specification, manufacturing and fabrication through construction, testing and commissioning, operation and maintenance. Should questions arise regarding the pipeline’s quality and integrity, TVC records can speed the search for answers and avert potentially dangerous incidents.

While much has been written about TVC recordkeeping, actual practice and experience have helped transmission line owners, engineers, contractors and other industry professionals identify opportunities to enhance the quality of the data, as well as the processes by which it is collected and used. Investing time and resources in advance of project design and construction can help foster development of a TVC system that preserves the integrity of the information chain and serve the needs of the owner and other data users.

Use these six tips, based on experience with a variety of gas infrastructure design, construction and management projects over the past two decades. Each has potential value to other projects as owners strive to safely expand the reach and capacity of the nation’s natural gas infrastructure.

Figure 1: Adding data to a visualization tool gives utility owners the ability to verify data, for example joint locations. Courtesy: Dewberry

Figure 1: Adding data to a visualization tool gives utility owners the ability to verify data, for example joint locations. Courtesy: Dewberry

1. Know your role in TVC

A typical underground gas transmission pipeline may have 4,000 to 4,500 discrete data points per mile, all of which must be documented in conformance with PHMSA requirements. They include pipe heat numbers and specifications, segment cuts, seam type and orientation, physical location, construction methodology, welds, X-ray verification, fittings, flanges, valves and many others. Pressure tests likewise must include location, temperature, duration, start/end, minimum and maximum test pressure and test logs to be considered valid and complete.

Though TVC documentation roles overlap, a utility’s purchase of coated pipe segments from the mill is part of the “traceability” aspect and would include data such as production date, heat number, diameter, wall thickness and yield strength. The contractor is on the “verifiable” side by confirming materials received from the project pipe yard match plans and specifications, as well as segment location, placement and welding procedure.

The engineer-of-record also has a “verifiable” role, providing an independent check on each segment and its placement. If the data sources and documentation are in alignment, the owner can sign off on the record as being “complete.”

As such, each project team member must have a complete and accurate end-to-end understanding of their respective roles in TVC, including responsibility for each type of data to prevent gaps in the documentation process. It’s also essential they know how all data points — their own and those provided by others — are to be managed, reviewed, shared, quality checked and, ultimately, incorporated into the system.

2. Strive for standardization

At the outset of a pipeline project, the team should establish standard “language” and definitions for TVC documentation, from terminology to the format in which data is to be recorded and shared. In addition to facilitating a more seamless documentation process, such consistency will help prevent potentially costly and time-consuming errors and discrepancies.

A simple but relevant example is the use of numerals and block lettering for handwritten documentation. During a TVC review, an “I” on a handwritten document for material may be misinterpreted as a “1.” Though this error may not affect asset quality and how it was constructed, the inconsistency with other data may prevent the owner from signing off on the record, requiring an extended effort to track down and resolve the issue.

Similarly, the team should establish a process to quickly respond to and resolve unexpected incidents. Should an inaccurate or missing heat number for a specified pipe section be discovered, for example, the contractor will need immediate access to mill test reports to match the material in the field with what was ordered.

Figure 2: Traceable, verifiable and complete (TVC) is not simply a regulation to be followed, but rather a practice that enhances the safety of the pipelines themselves, the people responsible for its operation and maintenance and the communities in which the infrastructure is located. Courtesy: Dewberry

Figure 2: Traceable, verifiable and complete (TVC) is not simply a regulation to be followed, but rather a practice that enhances the safety of the pipelines themselves, the people responsible for its operation and maintenance and the communities in which the infrastructure is located. Courtesy: Dewberry

3. Adopt scalable processes

A TVC program must have the capacity and operational capability to scale up for such a massive amount of information collected over several years. Many owners have adopted geographic information systems to house TVC records, often supported by secondary software for access, analysis and other functions.

While the owner is ultimately responsible for setting documentation requirements, other project team members may use their own tools and methods to capture and transfer TVC data. That makes technological compatibility with the owner’s system another critical element of project planning. There are too many variables that might break the TVC chain unless this large volume of data is being moved efficiently.

Along with the capability for real-time data collection and access, TVC systems must be understandable and accessible to all parties, not rife with inconsistencies or issues that are left unresolved until construction and commissioning are complete. Performing data quality control checks incrementally as the asset is developed, rather than as a stand-alone delivery at the end of the project, provides an extra measure of trust in both the data and the process.

4. Use a variety of communication channels

Pipeline projects don’t take place in a vacuum. Most will have multiple construction spreads working concurrently, likely using pipe segments sourced from different deliveries or even different mills. Other variables include construction methodologies for site-specific conditions (e.g., difficult or contaminated soil, highway or waterway crossings, etc.), weather conditions and welders’ practices.

That’s why communication across the project team is essential to maintain the chain of TVC data. Simply assuming something is correct or ignoring a discrepancy compromises the records’ integrity and risks serious consequences in the future.

Regular and deliberate communication can help expedite response to documentation issues. An unexpected but real example included a batch of pipe arriving at a jobsite and stamped with a heat number that did not match the purchase order data. By elevating the topic in real time, coordination between the mill, owner and contractor quickly resolved the issue. A mill representative visited the job, reviewed their product and provided written acknowledgement to resolve the discrepancy.

Had the team simply accepted the order or relied only on verbal confirmation with the mill before adding the pipe to the inventory, the spreads potentially might have installed segments of deficient pipe in multiple locations. Subsequent discovery of the discrepancy could have required whole sections to be extracted or, if an incident occurred, risked sanctions on the owner for being unable to verify the mill report and actual pipe.

Table 1: Raw data can be displayed in a spreadsheet, allowing utility owners to see detailed elements of their systems. Courtesy: Dewberry

Table 1: Raw data can be displayed in a spreadsheet, allowing utility owners to see detailed elements of their systems. Courtesy: Dewberry

A valuable means for fostering continual communication during a recently completed 16-mile, 24-inch diameter, high-pressure transmission line was a digital map-based management tool that tied considerable amounts of TVC data with visual representations of the pipeline asset as construction and commissioning progressed. The tool was structured so that users could access multiple levels of data in real time, tracking changes and updates as they occurred.

In addition to bridging diverse experience and approaches, complementing TVC data with visual representations enhanced teamwide understanding that the documentation process was not merely an exercise in collecting discrete pieces of information, but rather an interconnectedness of activities.

5. Facilitating the final TVC “handshake”

Adopting these measures will go a long way toward creating relevant and usable TVC records that will serve the owner’s needs for the life of the pipeline. But they are by no means an end to themselves. As with TVC data itself, delivery of the documentation should be standardized where possible, leave no room for interpretation, be easy to use and formatted to facilitate a useable transfer between parties.

A question frequently asked to “stress test” TVC data compilation is whether a person unfamiliar with the project can review and understand the data as presented, with no explanation necessary. This means all abbreviations are explained, legends are accurate to the as-builts, terminology on one document is consistent with other complimentary documents and handwritten notes and work orders are clear and legible.

Before completion of the TVC data package of the 16-mile pipeline project, project stakeholders had an opportunity to review the data and how it was presented. This extra step yielded valuable feedback that helped the team adjust and refine annotations, abbreviations, cross-referencing notes and file formats for certain documents that best suited the owner’s workflow and user groups. The result was a handoff of TVC data that the owner can trust in terms of both content and usability.

6. Commitment is everything

Perhaps the most important lesson learned from the TVC recordkeeping and management process is the quality that can be achieved when all project team members are committed to the program’s success. TVC is not simply a regulation to be followed, but rather a practice that enhances the safety of the pipelines themselves, the people responsible for its operation and maintenance and the communities in which the infrastructure is located.

Applying field-tested best practices and insights honed through years of experience with a proactive approach will yield a TVC program that truly embodies its goals of traceable, verifiable and complete.

 

Hardeep Rana, PE, is a senior engineer based in Dewberry’s Baltimore office. He has nearly 45 years of experience and spent the majority of his career working for a medium-sized public utility firm in the mid-Atlantic area before joining Dewberry in 2021.


Author Bio: David Taylor, RLA, is a vice president and business unit manager in Dewberry’s Baltimore office. Hardeep Rana, PE, is a senior engineer in Dewberry’s Baltimore office.