Crude oil, refined product, and biofuel pipeline accidents in the US impacting people or the environment have been trending downward since 2010. Accidents/1,000 miles have decreased steadily since 2014 while the volume spilled/billion bbl-miles shipped has fluctuated in the past decade but along a generally downward trendline.
The leading cause of these accidents is corrosion, followed by equipment failure. The two combined are responsible for more than half of pipeline incidents affecting people or the environment since 2010, according to US Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration data. More work needs to be done.
Ways and means
To meet this need Lone Star College (LSC)-University Park in Houston is teaching corrosion control and integrity management through a 2-year associate of applied science (AAS) degree in corrosion technology. John Richardson is one of the college’s first corrosion technology students. After experiencing the ups and downs of being a project manager for a variety of pipeline companies, the 38-year-old returned to school.
Richardson chose corrosion technology specifically after watching his brother successfully complete a similar program and become certified by the National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE). LSC-University Park’s degree program prepares its students for three different Level 1 NACE certifications: coatings inspector, internal corrosion technologist, and pipeline corrosion integrity management technician.
“There are very few career paths where you can earn a degree in two years and come out making $60,000 or more,” said Richardson, who was halfway through the program in June 2021. “My brother and I were going through some of the same things [with our careers]. I got him thinking about becoming a pipe inspector, and he really took it to the next level to get certified. He did really well and pushed me toward it, so here I am.”
The college developed the program by partnering with industry professionals from leading energy companies, many of which surround the LSC-University Park campus. A 15-member advisory committee comprised of professionals from NACE and companies such as Kinder Morgan Inc., ConocoPhillips Co., Acuren Industrial Services, Coastal Corrosion Control Inc., and Enercon Services Inc., helped develop the program and clarified the skills necessary for those coming out of college and into the field.
Before LSC launched its program for fall semester 2020, the nearest school offering a corrosion technology degree was 3 hours away in Kilgore, Tex., much less convenient both to would-be students residing in Houston and the industry needing their services.
While portions of the program are offered online, some classes use the campus’s state-of-the-art corrosion lab, created under direction of the advisory committee and giving students hands-on experience with atmospheric controls, cathodic controls, and coating and inspection tools.
“For the lab, the advisory committee basically modified our own tool list for things that would be applicable to the students,” said Drew Hevle, manager of corrosion control at Kinder Morgan and member of the program’s advisory committee. “This gives them exposure to the tools they will use on the job. Corrosion affects every industry, and the tools we use here are pretty universal to other industries, too.”
After obtaining a degree in corrosion technology from LSC-University Park, students like Richardson can typically enter the workforce almost immediately. “Corrosion prevention is a big industry that has a huge impact across all industries,” said Hevle. “Houston is very oil and gas focused but think of other industries in other parts of the country, like the airlines for instance.”
“Corrosion technology is a need everywhere across the world, not just here in Houston,” said Richardson. “But my family is here, so I hope to get a job in Houston and stay close.”