According to World Corrosion Organization (WCO), the global direct cost of corrosion is approximately $2.2 trillion or roughly three percent of world gross domestic product (GDP). This solely reflects direct cost of corrosion covering materials, equipment and services involved in repair, maintenance and replacement. If indirect costs such as environmental damage, waste of resources and loss of production or personal injury resulting from corrosion were also included, the number would be astronomical.

Corrosion experts believe that approximately 20 to 25 percent of the direct cost can be saved by applying currently available corrosion control technologies, yet little attention is paid to corrosion except in critical industries such as aerospace and oil and gas. Explosions in pipelines or at refineries are widely reported and publicized, however, loss of potable water or the environmental damage caused by corroded sewer lines is ever told by the news, despite the need for it to be newsworthy. As a matter of fact, a study by NACE International in 2002 estimated that the cost of corrosion in the U.S. was $276 billion with the cost of corrosion in drinking water and sewer systems being $36 billion.

Corrosion can be controlled either actively or passively. Active controlling includes cathodic protection, where the reactions involved in corrosion are influenced by a sacrificial material (often zinc) rather than the substrate. Passive controlling involves applying a thin film or coating to prevent moisture and other corrosive reactants from reaching the substrate. Often, corrosion inhibitors are also formulated into these systems. Although these measures can be taken to prevent or reduce corrosion, there is also testing and monitoring of corrosion in assets while they are in-service. Often corrosion prevention or controlling techniques are not enough and the assets need to be continuously tested and monitored to ensure they haven’t reached the end of their life. This article will look at the corrosion testing and monitoring market in the oil and gas industry, providing an overview on the market dynamics of the different techniques available for this area.

Testing or Monitoring

Until a few years ago, continuous corrosion monitoring of assets in the oil and gas industry was not widely adopted due to a lack of a commercially viable product that could provide reliable monitoring. Typically periodic tests would be carried out using pipeline inspection gauges (PIG) on pipelines or ultrasonic scanners and thickness gauges on other assets. These periodic tests would be carried out once every one to two years with no continuous information tracked about the condition of the asset on a day-to-day basis. Another alternative to continuous corrosion monitoring that has been popular is measurement of the corrosivity of liquid being carried or transported through a medium like a pipeline. Although, proprietors of these corrosivity measuring solutions call it corrosion monitoring, it is not monitoring in the classical sense, since the condition of the asset is not being assessed.

The oil and gas industry realized that performing these periodic tests was not effective for static equipment as failures caused by corrosion were occurring at a progressively faster rate. The assets would fail in a much shorter timeframe than testing would be able to identify. Hence, if an asset was previously tested once a year, the industry realized that this was not enough and the periods between tests started reducing to a stage where monitoring was considered the best alternative. The idea behind monitoring is to identify whether deterioration is taking place on the asset and at what rate the deterioration is occurring in order to make an informed decision regarding repair or replacement of the asset.

Arrival of Corrosion Monitoring

In the early 2000s, commercially viable solutions were developed for pipeline corrosion monitoring. These solutions utilizing ultrasonic technology through permanently installed sensors on the pipeline measure the wall thickness and provide accurate measurements of internal corrosion and erosion rates. Over the years, advancement in sensor technology, low-noise electronics and digital signal processing algorithms has enabled the solutions to achieve high resolution results. Advancement in technology has also enabled use of these permanently installed sensors for corrosion monitoring in subsea applications. Companies such as GE Measurement and Control Solutions, Sensorlink AS, Emerson Process Management and Rohrback Cosasco Systems are the important global participants in this market. Frost & Sullivan finds that the global market also has a number of local participants that are active in their respective geographic regions and estimates the total number of participants in the pipeline corrosion monitoring market at approximately 50.

Although advancement was witnessed in the corrosion monitoring for pipeline condition assessment in the early 2000s, this technology was limited to pipelines and could not be applied to upstream and downstream oil and gas industry assets. British Petroleum recognized this apparent void in the industry and approached Imperial College London with a brief to develop a solution for continuous corrosion monitoring for high temperature assets in the downstream oil and gas industry.

Imperial College London was successful in this endeavor and in 2010, Permasense, provider of these continuous corrosion monitoring solutions, spun out from their efforts. Permasesnse started marketing this solution and within a year were able to capture a sizeable portion of the market. Permasesnse’s unique solution is able to monitor corrosion in pipework with temperatures of up to 600 degrees Celsius, can be deployed at a large-scale (with multiple sensors) and in remote locations. Due to the distinctive mix of capabilities offered by this solution, Permasesnse has carved a niche in the corrosion monitoring market. Over the past four years, the company has further evolved their technology and extended its application cluster to also include upstream oil and gas industry.

Conclusion—Monitoring is the answer to Corrosion Challenges

Corrosion is a menace that not only results in worldwide monetary loss, but also (in certain situations) result in catastrophic infrastructure failures that lead to loss of human life. In the oil and gas industry, operators have realized that periodic testing cannot detect failures due to continuous corrosion. Research has found that assets are failing due to corrosion within months, or in certain cases, within weeks of installation and monitoring is the best answer to cutting losses and ensuring safety.

Nikhil Jain is a Senior Research Analyst within Frost & Sullivan’s Test & Measurement research group. Frost & Sullivan, the Growth Partnership Company, works in collaboration with clients to leverage visionary innovation that addresses the global challenges and related growth opportunities that will make or break today's market participants.

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