Oil and gas

Integrity Management of Energy Pipelines

Natural Pipeline Rupture & Fire

October 17, 2022

In May of 2020, a natural gas transmission pipeline ruptured in Hillsboro, Kentucky, causing a fire and millions of dollars in damage. The rupture, which occurred on a hillside pipe segment, had previously been identified by the operator for geotechnical monitoring and mitigation due to the presence of an active landslide. Following the incident, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a pipeline investigation report (PIR-22/01) on the incident. While thankfully there were no fatalities or injuries, the operator estimated the cost of property damage and emergency response was $11.7 million.

Between 2018 and 2020, the operator performed multiple integrity management studies, including in-line inspections (ILIs) and geohazard assessments at the site of active landsliding.  Integrity studies indicated that the affected pipeline was exposed to external loads, or loads transmitted to a pipeline from an external source.  Although the operator planned to mitigate the hazardous site in Summer 2020, hillslope failure and pipeline rupture occurred before mitigation was completed.

Tips for Proactive Pipeline Management and Risk Mitigation

For gas and hazardous liquid pipelines, proactive management of geohazard risks is critical. To ensure pipeline safety and integrity, here are some tips for operators:

  1. Perform comprehensive geohazard risk assessments, including field surveys, to efficiently identify, document and prioritize the nature and extent of potential threats. Detailed investigations should reduce uncertainly and improve risk and financial-based decision-making. 
  2. Quantify external loading and load distributions for at-risk pipelines.
  3. Monitor environmental conditions and changing weather patterns.  Soil stability can be adversely impacted by changing weather patterns, so it’s important to check soil and surface materials regularly.
  4. With the assistance of geotechnical engineers, design and implement site-specific monitoring and mitigation plans based on risk analyses and load calculations.  Monitoring and mitigation plans should provide operators sufficient time and information to act in response to geohazard events.

How WSB Can Help

Due to the complexity and variability of geohazards, WSB’s Energy Sciences team recommends comprehensive geohazard risk assessments be performed for energy pipelines on five-year schedules. Our team of scientists and risk assessment specialists can help you identify, mitigate, and manage geohazard risks through services tailored to meet regulatory requirements and individual risk profiles. 


The Hydrogen Revolution

By Paul Rodden, GIS Program Lead, WSB

Hydrogen has long been utilized in niche industries as a feedstock for fertilizers and to aid Oil and Gas companies in processing hydrocarbons. Several times throughout history, hydrogen supporters have attempted to push the element into the mainstream as a clean energy source. But these attempts have failed due to a few factors that, until recently, have held hydrogen back as a legitimate fuel. 

Separating hydrogen

These restrictions have revolved around the fact that hydrogen loves to bond tightly to other elements like oxygen and carbon. It is also the smallest atom in nature and can leak through most materials. The first restriction of its bonding ability means that striping hydrogen from other elements has been extremely costly and intensive. The process to separate hydrogen from oxygen is called electrolysis and requires clean water and a massive amount of energy to generate hydrogen in bulk. The process to separate hydrogen from carbon, which has historically been the accepted way to generate the fuel, uses natural gas as the feedstock, separates the hydrogen from the carbon, and releases the carbon as CO2 into the atmosphere. The obvious drawback to this is the release of the greenhouse gas (GHG) in large quantities. 

Why is this revolution different?

What makes this push to establish hydrogen as the fuel of choice for the energy transition more likely to develop then the half dozen times previously? Well, that’s the big difference. The energy transition movement is sweeping the globe and forcing every nation to establish carbon neutrality goals. The associated costs and risks of leveraging hydrogen as the energy transition fuel of choice seems highly likely depending on several factors. There are massive government subsidies that will aid hydrogen development costs and technical developments. These subsidies and developments will reduce the cost of materials and will lower the risks involved with large scale hydrogen energy development.

What technologies develop hydrogen?

There are many factors to consider when exploring the best way to develop hydrogen. What are the costs involved and what technology makes the most sense to invest in? Most people in the hydrogen industry discuss the different processes in terms of colors. Green is hydrogen generated from water using renewable energy (Wind, Solar, Geothermal, etc.) to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. This process relies on electrolysis using either a proton exchange membrane (PEM) or alkaline electrolysis. On the surface, this is a very clean method of making hydrogen but also the most expensive, and depending on the study one references, not nearly as clean as the industry would like everyone to believe. The other largely referenced color is blue. This is same technology referenced earlier that converts natural gas into hydrogen. What makes blue different is the addition of capturing the CO2 and either utilizing it in other industries or sequestering the GHG underground. This technology, called steam methane reforming (SMR) with carbon capture (CCUS), has much lower associated development costs but still has the stigma of utilizing hydrocarbons as its feedstock and the associated costs of capturing carbon. 

Outside of the two main avenues of creating hydrogen are a handful of technologies that are quickly gaining in popularity. The first, is new tech called methane pyrolysis. This technology uses natural gas as its feedstock to create hydrogen but unlike SMR, this method (dubbed turquoise hydrogen) has no CO2 byproduct but rather solid carbon.  This technology uses a carbon negative process to generate the hydrogen. Other technologies include in-situ combustion, plasma gasification, and photocatalysis. All of these have amazing upside potential and distinct advantages over both blue and green hydrogen.

What’s leading the hydrogen revolution?

Another key element leading the hydrogen revolution is the incredible surge in development for hydrogen fuel cells. The hydrogen fuel cell industry is one of the globe’s fastest growing markets and is the main target of hydrogen investment funds. Fuel cells have distinct advantages over traditional battery technology and internal combustion engines. Since hydrogen is so small and light and is the most energy dense (per unit mass) fuel on earth, it can be densely compressed to provide electricity through the fuel cell in a more efficient manner and takes up less space while doing so. This makes fuel cells the ideal solution for carbon free long-haul trucking and shipping

With the technological advantages coming to light almost daily, new utilization methods getting deployed, and nearly all governments developing (or already developed) hydrogen strategies and roadmaps, this revolution looks to stay.

Paul Rodden has nearly 19 years in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), data management, and business development primarily focused on the oil and gas industry. In April of 2020 he worked alongside Exxon’s hydrogen team to develop the world’s first commercial hydrogen dataset. During the development cycle of the dataset, Paul gained unique insights into the hydrogen market and its rise as the energy transition leader.

[email protected] | 281.787.9423

US Fish and Wildlife Service decide listing monarch butterfly is “warranted but precluded”

By Roxy Robertson, Environmental Scientist, WSB

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently announced their decision to list the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species act is “warranted but precluded”. The USFWS will not issue a proposed rule to list the monarch officially until 2024 due to insufficient funding and personnel. The listing will be evaluated annually to determine its eligibility and listing decision may be expedited under a new administration.

What does the USFWS decision mean?
  • The “warranted but precluded” decision means that the USFWS has determined the monarch butterfly meets the definition of a threatened or endangered species, but the agency lacks the resources to take further action to list the species at this time.
  • Since monarch butterflies still face threats and decline, there is a strong likelihood that monarch conservationists will challenge and litigate the decision.
  • If litigation occurs, the USFWS could be ordered to prioritize the listing prior to 2024. This could result in a listing of the species within a short timeframe. If this occurs, partners enrolled in the Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterfly on Energy and Transportation Lands (CCAA) are protected against regulatory actions that may occur following the listing decision.
Why is the CCAA important?
  • By enrolling in the CCAA, partners will be protected against any regulatory actions that may result from future listing. Enrollment avoids risks to planned projects that may impact monarchs and their habitat by giving assurance that no additional regulatory requirements will be imposed by the USFWS beyond the terms of the CCAA agreement.
  • The conservation efforts of enrolled partners will help to save the monarch species. This decision means that monarch butterflies are in trouble and unless the species experiences dramatic improvements in the next few years, a future listing of this species is certain.
  • Enrollment in the CCAA demonstrates the partner’s commitment to conservation of this species.

Learn more about the Candidate Conservation Agreement and how the listing decision will impact right of way on energy and transportation lands. 

Roxy is an environmental scientist and certified wetland delineator. She has a master’s degree in ecology and is a Certified Associate Ecologist. She has completed numerous wetland delineations and has experience with wetland monitoring, ecological restoration design, environmental site assessments, field research, biological surveys, ArcGIS mapping, and GPS Trimble.

[email protected] | 763.762.2844

Sustainable Design

By Steven Foss
Feb. 6, 2015

Our environment – natural and built – is a complex network of components, creating unique and dynamic landscapes. Sustainable design focuses on maintaining and improving environments through a collaborative approach, considering how they fit within the greater ecosystem, and employing devices that are environmentally conscious and friendly. Sustainable design strategies typically include reducing carbon footprints; improving energy efficiency; and enhancing or protecting natural habitats while still providing economic, environmental, and social benefits.



Environmental benefits of sustainable design

The major goal of sustainable design is to preserve and improve our environment while reducing our carbon footprint and minimizing the use of natural resources. When sustainable design solutions are incorporated through project development, communities and the environment benefit through one or more of the following scenarios:

  • Protecting/conserving the ecosystem
  • Improved air and water quality
  • Reduced volumes of waste
  • Conserving natural resources

Social benefits of sustainable design

Implementation of sustainable design not only provides environmental benefits to our communities, but also improves our quality of life, health, and well-being. Improving the environment and integrating sustainable practices can have the following results on individuals and communities:

  • Improved active and passive spaces for social interaction and circulation
  • Improved emotional function
  • Reduced stress
  • Improved work effectiveness
  • Stronger sense of belonging and connection to the environment

Economic benefits of sustainable design

Incorporating sustainable design, through integrated design processes and innovative use of sustainable materials and equipment, can also generate economic benefits such as:

  • Reduced infrastructure needs
  • Lower annual costs for energy, water, and maintenance/repair
  • Reduced “heat island” effect
  • Improved ability to attract new employees/residents
  • Reduced time and cost for project permitting
  • Improved use of former sites (such as brownfields)
  • Reduced construction costs through reuse of construction materials
  • Increased property values


Sustainable design transforms conventional thinking about our landscape, infrastructure and buildings. It presents significant opportunities to improve our quality of life through environmental, social and economic benefits.

The following is a list of materials and tactics that can be incorporated into sustainable design practices:

  • Preserving existing tree cover and biodiversity
  • Vegetated swales/rain gardens
  • Dry and wet ponds
  • Green roofs
  • Underground storage and permeable pavement
  • Enhanced tree plantings (Silva Cells)
  • Infiltration devices
  • Alternative energy (wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, hydroelectric)
  • Conversion of mowed/maintained turf to low-maintenance native grasses
  • Stormwater capture and reuse for irrigation
  • Use of recycled construction materials