System Integrity

Colonial Pipeline Company – How Colonial Protects the Pipeline

Construction & Design Standards: Maintaining the safety and integrity of its under-ground refined liquid petroleum products pipeline is Colonial’s first priority. It starts with design and construction standards that help to maintain the integrity of steel pipe. One hundred percent of Colonial’s pipeline has an external coating to inhibit corrosion. In addition, Colonial installs cathodic protection systems along our pipeline. These systems use a low-level electrical current to connect the pipeline to a more easily corroded “sacrificial metal,” which helps to inhibit pipeline corrosion.

Pipeline Operations Computer Monitoring: Colonial also uses computerized technology to monitor flow rates, pressures, pump operating status and valve positions all day and night, every day of the year. Pipeline controllers can shut down a pipeline section within seconds, if an emergency situation is identified.

Internal Inspection Tools: Since its beginnings in 1962, Colonial has used numerous techniques and inspection devices to test the integrity of its pipelines. In-line inspection devices, known as “smart pigs,” allow Colonial to inspect the internal surface of its pipelines. On average, Colonial inspects more than 2,000 miles of its 5,500-mile pipe-line system every year. Since 1985, Colonial has used a device called a “deformation pig” to take precise readings of its large-diameter lines. Deformation pigs look for dents or buckles in the pipe. Other high-tech pigs, use magnetic flux leakage technology to detect corrosion as small as a half-inch in size. In 1994, improvements in technology led to the introduction of the elastic wave tool, which uses ultrasound to detect microscopic cracks in the pipeline. When these inspection devices identify defects, Colonial is able to uncover the pipeline, investigate the problem and repair the line before the defects become problematic and threaten the environment or human safety. Typically, Colonial makes hundreds of proactive and preventative repairs each year.

Integrity Management Plan: Both smart pig and cathodic protection data is integrated to develop system-wide risk profiles that are used as part of Colonial’s system integrity program. This pro-gram is conducted under the watchful eye of federal regulators that specify repair criteria and timeframes for various defects when they are identified. Colonial’s Integrity Management Plan includes the following elements:

High Consequence Area (HCA) Identification:  Colonial is required to identify HCAS and HCA impact zones along its system to identify segments of the pipeline that receive priority for inspection and repair.

Risk Assessment: Information about pipeline integrity obtained through physical inspection and from internal inspection tools is gathered and analyzed to identify potential risks.

Assessment Plans: Colonial’s Integrity Management Plan specifies the inspection methods and schedule for all pipe-lines, facilities and tanks. Baseline assessments provide a starting point for evaluating system integrity, from which asset changes can then be monitored.

Criteria for Remedial Action Federal regulations establish criteria for excavation, inspection and remediation of pipeline imperfections identified during an assessment. The law establishes strict timelines for remediation based on the type of defect identified.


Continuous Evaluation and Remediation: Colonial inspects its pipeline system using internal inspection tools on a five year interval, such that at the end of five years, all accessible segments have been evaluated. The process of integrity assessment is ongoing. A dedicated System Integrity and Preventive Maintenance (SIPM) Team is responsible for scheduling and evaluating pipeline integrity evaluations, analyzing the data, and prioritizing maintenance on a continuous basis.

Preventive & Mitigation Measures A key component of Colonials Integrity Manage-ment Plan is the identification of specific actions that can reduce the probability and consequence of a pipeline release to HCAs. These actions are part of Colonial’s continuous improvement efforts.

Effectiveness Monitoring Critical to program effectiveness is the establishment of performance metrics to evaluate the success of Colonial’s integrity management efforts and to identify future areas of focus.

Comprehensive Pipeline Protection Practices: In addition to in-line inspections, Colonial also monitors pipeline integrity in a number of ways:

  • Flying the pipeline right of way weekly, weather per-mitting, to perform visual inspections from the air.
  • Mowing the entire ROW annually, and trimming trees and overgrowth as necessary so the line remains visible from the air and the ground.
  • Supporting the nationwide “811—Call Before You Dig” program. Colonial inspectors respond to over 300 locate tickets each day. 
  •  Dispatching ground patrol to visually inspect the pipe-line ROW.
  • Rewarding citizens for reporting unauthorized activi-ties or suspicious behaviors along the pipeline right of way that could signal potential risk. 
  •  Installing heavier-wall pipe or pipeline casings where the line extends beneath roads and river crossings.