Using Vessel AIS Data to Protect Pipelines and Remote Assets

Posted by Jason Tieman


Oil and gas companies are now augmenting their marine pipeline protection programs with Automatic Identification System (AIS)-based vessel position data and analytical tools that enable them to proactively monitor and respond to vessels that appear to be threatening their remote assets, pre-empting problems before they occur.  There is growing enforcement and expansion of AIS carriage requirements, allowing for greater monitoring of potential pipeline threats as well as an unprecedented ability to run analytical reports of vessel traffic to better understand the threat of vessel impacts and how to better target outreach and pipeline integrity funding.

Proven Benefits

The benefits of using of AIS-based vessel-tracking and asset monitoring tools to prevent pipeline strikes have been demonstrated by the Coastal and Marine Operators (CAMO) group, which launched a pipeline monitoring and protection program during August 2015 in partnership with the Greater LaFourche Port Commission and Oceaneering®.  Port entrances and other waterways are often in close proximity to dense networks of marine natural gas and liquid pipelines.  These fixed underwater assets can be damaged by vessel anchors, spud barges, and direct vessel impacts, especially in shallow water where the pipelines are most densely distributed. To keep this from happening, CAMO is using Oceaneering’s PortVision® AIS-based vessel-monitoring service to monitor and alert vessels that might be slowing or anchoring in two charted pipeline corridors north and south of Port Fourchon that pass under its main navigable channel.  

The process is simple:  when the pipeline-pic-1.jpgPortVision service shows that a vessel is operating at a speed less than .5 knots for three minutes or more within one of these corridors, an addressed, one-time AIS Safety Related Message (also known as message 12) is immediately transmitted directly to the vessel’s wheelhouse that says, “PIPELINE BELOW.”  Depending on the equipment installed on the receiving vessel and its equipment configuration, there may be visual and/or audible variations in how the AIS safety alert is received.

“Pipeline protection is increasingly important, with the typical incident costing an average of at least $1 million to repair, not counting the incalculable costs of injury or death,” said Ed Landgraf with Shell, and Director of CAMO.  “This AIS-based safety broadcasting system makes it easier for mariners to know where and when to take protective measures as they transit or operate near submerged pipelines, and we look forward to a successful roll-out here and in other ports nationwide.”

Other Ways to Protect Assets with AIS Data

AIS-based vessel-tracking tools are also being used by numerous oil companies to improve their pipeline and asset protection programs.  One example is Kinetica Partners LLC, which operates approximately 1,600 miles of pipe serving products in and near the Gulf of Mexico. The company is using these tools to optimize planning and implementation decisions.  It also has incorporated AIS data into its risk-based inspection activities.

Kinetica’s program focuses on assets in approximately 50 locations where water is less than 15 feet deep and there is a greater risk of exposed pipeline or navigation hazards.  Roughly 90 percent of these locations are in remote areas that are typically inspected via helicopter.  These fly-overs cost an average $3,000 each yet provide only a snapshot in time – not adequate for assessing long-term vessel traffic patterns and associated risk.  Budget was wasted on fly-overs where there were low traffic volumes, and Kinetica was also concerned it wasn’t focusing enough attention on higher-risk locations.  

pipeline-pic-2.jpgWith access to AIS vessel-tracking data, Kinetica now has both real-time and historical information to inform resource-allocation decisions.  The integration of AIS and other data has revealed that, in some cases, certain threat risk levels are acceptable, giving Kinetica the confidence to reduce inspection frequency and vessel notification parameters and re-direct resources.  

Kinetica also takes advantage of historical AIS data to analyze and optimize notification parameters for the most effective pipeline threat monitoring and management.  There is the future opportunity to also receive alerts when pipeline segments hit traffic thresholds, triggering a look at inspection and notification policy changes.  Another use for historical data is to provide insight into specific vessels and fleets that appear to regularly operate near assets – this, too, can influence awareness and prevention efforts.

Analytics based on historical data can also be used to influence decisions about permitting and whether to seek an emergency coastal zone permit for a location with high vessel traffic.  Or, the data can be used to analyze notification procedures and determine whether the standard USCG “notice to mariners” is adequate or there should be a different mode of stakeholder communication.  AIS analytics also can influence regulatory compliance, training, and where to install new pipeline based on historical vessel traffic patterns.  

Additionally, historical AIS data is often one of the first sources of information to corroborate that an incident has occurred, in the absence of eyewitnesses.  An example is when an operator’s pipeline flow monitoring system reports a pressure drop in a remote area – this could be a major rupture. AIS data can be used to confirm the event, identify the responsible vessel, help understand traffic patterns, and both plan and launch optimal response activities.

Latest USCG Rules Add New Asset Protection Opportunities

The U.S. Coast Guard recently completed the expansion of its Notice of Arrival (NOA) regulatory requirements.  The goal is to help address threats to maritime transportation safety and security by improving navigation safety, enhancing the ability to identify and track vessels, and heightening overall maritime domain awareness (MDA).   Among other changes, the Final Rule (80 Fed. Reg. 5281), passed on January 30, 2015, expands the applicability of both NOA and Automatic Identification System (AIS) requirements to include more commercial vessels.  

In addition to meeting the Coast Guard’s safety and security objectives, these changes will also make it easier to realize the many additional benefits of AIS data for providing instant, continuous access to critical information about vessel activities at sea, and in ports and at busy marine terminals.  One key new element is the ability to install AIS on offshore fixed structures to create an AIS Aid to Navigation (ATON) system – essentially, a “virtual ATON” as opposed to a traditional physical element such as a lighthouse, buoy or beacon.  ATONs enable an authority to use AIS for transmitting navigation information where no physical ATON exists.  This is possible because AIS provides the ability to send messages to the unique MMSID assigned to the vessel’s AIS transponder, bringing it right to the vessel’s wheelhouse.

With the ATON alerting capability, there is an ongoing ATON transmission approximately every three minutes to all vessels with the appropriate electronic charting or radar equipment for receiving and displaying. When a vessel interacts with the ATON in a designated corridor, it triggers the transmission of an alert message only to the wheelhouse of the encroaching vessel, warning its captain and crew the pipeline below.

As described earlier, CAMO was the first to use ATONs in this way, for pipeline safety alerting.  ATONs are also used to broadcast weather and sea state information, and notify mariners regarding area whale migration activity.    In these and other applications, AIS safety-related messages can also be broadcasted to all vessels that are within range of the broadcasting base station.  Previously, these ATON systems were prohibited on certain fixed structures, such as bridges. The USCG now allows this practice, reaffirming that the primary benefit of AIS is to provide near real-time dynamic information. Fixed and charted structures do not move; however, some are used by vessels as navigational aids, based on their position and proximity to shipping lanes. This Final Rule recognizes that reality.

One of the biggest advantages of the new USCG rule expansion is that any organization can create an ATON for their pipeline infrastructure or other fixed asset.  They simply go through an application process with the USCG.  Once approved, the ATON can be used to trigger automated safety messages to specifically addressed vessels, giving them an extra layer of awareness about pipelines and other assets.      

Creating New Opportunities

In addition to pipeline protection, oil companies are extending the use of AIS-based tools to include monitoring and preventing encroachment and damage to a broader range of infrastructure including unmanned platforms, subsea cables and other sensitive infrastructure.  Additionally, AIS is being combined with radar and other data sources to enable the owners of remotely operated fixed structures to establish a virtual "watch team" over multiple remote assets, anywhere in the world.  

The addition of radar to the system ensures that even vessels that are not transmitting AIS signals can be monitored.  Although these vessels cannot be alerted in the same way that vessels are alerted by ATONs, they can at least be seen, and included in a more complete picture of prevailing traffic patterns.  It is also common for fixed infrastructure such as oil rigs to be equipped with radar -- this data can be ingested into AIS-based vessel-tracking tools that can, in turn, filter for relevant data about any encroachment that represents a threat to the asset, and trigger the necessary alert.  

Adding Vessel Intelligence

Each of the aforementioned monitoring and alerting scenarios can be enhanced with the availability of more information.  As part of the USCG’s expanded NOA regulatory requirements, five new data fields were added to provide more information about vessel size and voyage details.  Even with these additions, however, information available with AIS data, alone, is limited to a set of unique vessel identifiers with minimal, and usually inaccurate, vessel dimensions.  

To provide access to PortVision-AIS-Vessel-Intelligence-1.jpgadditional information that makes pipeline and asset monitoring and alerting programs more effective, the latest AIS vessel-tracking services provide greater intelligence about encroaching vessels. One example is text, email, phone and other contact information to improve alerting.  Today’s services also provide other vessel information for a variety of valuable purposes.  This can include information to identify vessels with specific features, locate nearby vessels for operational or incident-response purposes, or build custom fleets based on these unique attributes so they can quickly identify not only the best vessel for the job, but what vessel can be there first.  

Pipeline safety is increasingly critical for oil companies who have hundreds of vessels crossing their pipeline infrastructure each day.  Protection programs can now be augmented with AIS-based vessel tracking tools that provide real-time visibility in all areas where encroachment could lead to a pipeline strike, an automated alerting system to preempt imminent strikes, and a collaborative platform for assessing risk and moving forward with the best solution.

PortVision 360 AIS Vessel Tracking

Posted on Mar 17, 2016 6:08:00 AM

Topics: Blog, News, oil, AIS, Pipeline, ATON, Vessel Tracking