by Holly Plummer, Senior Pipeline Integrity Engineer, GE Oil & Gas.
Holly joined PII Pipeline Solutions ( a GE Oil & Gas and Al Shaheen joint venture) in 1997 after finishing a degree in Mathematic. Her first role was as a Data Analyst analysing pipeline inspection data. In 1998 she joined the Pipeline Integrity Services Department where she now works as a Senior Integrity Engineer conducting technical assessments of oil & gas’ pipelines focusing on safety and quality. During her time with the company, Holly has studied on a part time basis and gained an MSc in Pipeline Engineering from Newcastle University.
Holly lives with her partner and 2 young sons, Joseph and Alex. Outside work Holly enjoys spending time with family & friends, and keeping fit. Her latest interest is karate where she is working towards a blue belt.
Pipelines are a really efficient way of moving oil and gas from place to place and a lot of scientific knowledge goes into building them. They need to be built to last, resist corrosion so they don’t rust and withstand high pressures so they don’t crack or burst. PII Pipeline Solutions provides an essential inspection service for pipelines to make sure they are still safe and efficient, which also requires a lot of scientific know-how.
For as long as I can remember I’d had flair and a passion for Math. I found it easy at school, so the logical next step was to study Mathematic at Northumbria University.
Soon after finishing my degree, I saw an advert looking for Pipeline Inspection Data Analysts at PII Pipeline Solutions, which is a joint venture between GE Oil & Gas and Al Shaheen Holdings. Intrigued by the prospect, I decided to apply and to my delight, I got the job!
As a Data Analyst it was my responsibility to make sense of the magnetic signals collected by pipeline inspection tools – also known as ‘intelligent pigs’-using computer software and complex algorithms. I was amazed with the amount of information that we could gather from ‘invisible’ (buried) pipelines. The robotic ‘pigs’ travel a little like a rocket, through the pipeline, scanning the inside steel surface and saving the data electronically. These robots are literally looking for ‘a needle in a haystack’.
Back in the office, the signal data analysis is critical to find potentially dangerous pipeline defects such as where it was corroding and other damage such as denting. This opened my eyes to the fact that I was doing a job that used my math skills to potentially save lives. Monitoring defects in oil & gas pipelines helps promote public and environmental safety, to avoid leaks or explosions.
A year later, I was a member of an Analysis team that was formed to focus on a new tool designed to identify cracks - another potential cause of pipeline failures – but rather than using magnets to find the information, this tool used a ultrasonic beams fired at angles into the pipeline wall. Reflections from these beams indicate possible locations of cracks. Imagine MRI medical scanners looking for defects in the human body: much of our technology is similar and uses the same principles.
After taking a course in ultrasonic testing, I now knew types and detail of shapes and sizes of defects that could be found in pipelines. It made me wonder what we do as the next stage in the process. This information is used to assess the severity and potential impact of defects. Today, I am responsible for conducting assessments that look at the quality and safety of pipelines in operation – the results of these assessments help oil companies make decisions about repairs and maintenance.
In 2004, Newcastle University launched a Master’s Degree in Pipeline Engineering, which I studied on a part-time basis while working full time. I graduated in 2009, and this time also included having my 2 children!
I enjoy the day to day challenges associated with the varying types of assessments I do and the often varying types of information that we have to use to conduct them; not only the pipeline inspection data from the ‘smart pig’ but often information from geological surveys for example, or other mapping records. I’m still amazed at how much I need to use math everyday – it’s so important in this line of work.
Travelling to other countries is part of my job, to meet our customers face to face in their offices. In recent years, I have also been involved in presenting training courses and technical papers to colleagues and peers in the oil & gas sector. This industry provides a lot of interesting work for me and allows me to use my skills in math and engineering. I’ve learnt so much in my time here and know there’s so much more to learn too!