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In the wake of a large pipeline spill in northeastern North Dakota, Gov. Doug Burgum challenged TC Energy back in November to join the state’s Intelligent Pipeline Integrity Program.

The company announced late Thursday afternoon that it is responding to that challenge in the affirmative. It will join the iPipe initiative.

“TC Energy is committed to operating the safest asset base in North America, using technology and advanced analytics to achieve that goal,” said Leslie Kass, Executive Vice President, Technical Center for TC Energy.

This is the second large pipeline company to announce it will join iPipe this week. Monday, Dakota Access Pipeline also announced it was joining the industry initiative, whose mission is to eliminate pipeline spills.

Jay Almlie, with the Energy and Environmental Research Center and director of the iPipe Consortium, said the industry-led effort is gaining momentum, not just in North Dakota, but across the nation, and even internationally.

“It’s exciting to have two companies, in such rapid succession join,” he said. “I think the take-home message is that large and small, all these companies have similar goals. None of them want pipeline leaks. They are joining in the effort to reach over the horizon and find every technology possible to prevent spills and leaks.”

The iPipe Consortium was also the result of a Burgum challenge. He chastised the industry for its spill record in an era he said has zero spill tolerance.

“We like to not have ranchers and farmers be the early detection and warning system in our state,” Burgum said at the time, and challenged the industry to achieve a perfect record.

The initiative is now 12 members strong, and still growing. It’s vision and its reach are also expanding.

“This has been primarily a North Dakota program started in North Dakota with North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum’s challenge to industry,” Almlie said. “But it has been so successful, I honestly see this spreading, not only nationally, but probably internationally.”

Almlie has, in fact, already fielded inquiries from neighboring Canadian companies about the possibility of joining iPipe. There have also been inquiries from companies whose primary holdings are outside of North Dakota.

The iPipe initiative uses a Shark Tank style competition to select technologies that can improve leak prevention and detection, and then works directly with them in the field to help refine the ideas to ready them for market.

This year, the program chose two projects that it will invest $1.5 million in. The companies, meanwhile, will also be investing, for a combined total in excess of $4 million.

That will bring to eight the number of projects iPipe has worked on advancing during the past two years. Of these two have already branched out and are contracting with oil and gas midstream companies outside of the iPipe umbrella.

“If iPipe’s goal is to create new tools to put in the tool belt for the pipeline industry, that mission has been accomplished,” Almlie said. “We already have two new tools that industry is paying money to use right now because of iPipe.”

Those tools, now on the market, are from Satelytics and Ingyu. Satelytics scans large data sets to identify potential problems before they become problems. Ingyu, meanwhile, has put a miniaturized super sensor inside a golf-ball sized device to ride pipelines. It listens for information about the pipeline’s health, and can also hear a tell-tale “whistle,” which indicates a leak.

This success has existing iPipe members considering an extension for the lifespan of iPipe beyond 2021.

“I cannot guarantee every company that’s currently a member will stay, but I think the program will continue,” Almlie said. “The member companies are saying why would we stop when it is so wildly successful? Let’s just keep going. And, there actually comes a point where you just have so much momentum because of the new members and their size.”

Almlie said he is sure the latest iPipe announcements won’t be the last. He’s already working with three more companies interested in committing to the program before it begins what will be its fourth selection round, this year in October.

“We haven’t decided where that one will be yet,” Almlie said.

It could actually be held out-of-state, Almlie said, to accommodate entities with assets in other shale plays.

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