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A Pleasant Surprise in the Permian Basin

TUESDAY, AUGUST 18, 2015

By Warren Brand

The three-hour drive through the scrub of the Northwestern Shelf of the Permian Basin was hot, long and fascinating.

Photos courtesy of author unless otherwise noted.

Temperatures in the Permian Basin run the gamut of extremes. The day I was there was on the warmer side.

The entire area is built around the oil and gas industry, and driving at 75 mph, the view was a blur of cactus, cricket pumps, tanks, semi-tractor trailers and pickup trucks. Not the clean, tidy suburban pickup trucks of urban areas, but workhorses of trucks, covered with dust and meant for a long day in the hot sun.

The Permian Basin is a fossil-fuel producing area ages old. The crude is sweet, only in the sense that it’s low-sulfur. It’s savory in that it is paired with highly concentrated salty water, making corrosion mitigation particularly challenging.

I had the privilege of performing a failure analysis and helping determine the means of random, yet serious, through-corrosion issues in carbon steel, coated risers for an oil-producer.

Linear corrosion pattern and severe wall loss likely caused by pit corrosion and elongated through the flow of highly salty water.

Long before my trek through the desert, I was leaning toward recommending a powder-coating solution for a wide variety of technical reasons.

I was pleased to find that my client had recently switched vendors and was already, by pure coincidence, leaning in that direction—and that there was a local company that had relatively recently started powder-coating operations.

As our meeting was wrapping up, I was torn between going back to my air-conditioned hotel room and working on my report versus asking if it would be possible to meet with their new vendor—unannounced.

Well, I suggested visiting the new vendor, and, of course, my client thought that was a great idea.

My hard-working, highly generous and pleasant hosts had explained that they could not wait to have pipes shipped any distance and that they had to have all of the work done locally.

So I climbed into, literally—you guessed it—a massive heavy-duty black Ford pickup that made me feel like a short person, for having to step up on the running rail and boost my oversized, flabby Chicago keister into the passenger seat.

Further internal corrosion and wall loss.

Our drive took us about 20 minutes down the highway, then past a small commercial district (it’s a one-McDonald’s town) into a residential area and down a dirt road. 

We passed small and well-kept residential homes and turned right, seemingly, into one of the driveways. 

In back was a newly built warehouse.

I was introduced to Juan and his nephew, who looked to be about 19, who was in charge of painting operations. 

Now, I come from a family business and get very, very nervous when relatives are involved. One never knows if they’re there because they can’t find a job anywhere else, or because they actually add value.

Painting operations consisted of the nephew, a couple of helpers, a new paint spray booth, a high-quality electrostatic industrial powder coating rig and an oven.

I started asking them questions, and my trepidation about the nephew grew when they showed me a product data sheet and three hand-typed pages of application guidelines. 

I asked what standards they followed, and they just stared back at me. Come to find, no one there had ever heard of SSPC or NACE.

I thought to myself, “OK, we’re a bit off the grid here, but let’s take a closer look.”

And as I spoke with the team and looked around, I started to be more open to what was really going on here.

First, the place was spotless. Second, as I started asking them questions about how they did things, it became evident that they were following a variety of standards; they just didn’t know it.

My trepidation was soon replaced with shame, as I remembered when I owned my own coating company some quarter of a century earlier. 

When we started out, I couldn’t have told you the difference between SSPC, NACE or SPCA. But our work was rock solid—and so were these guys.

They weren’t following ASTM D7091, but they were using a DFT gauge and taking a variety of readings.

They were not in compliance with standards, but they were getting the job done and done well. If DFT was too low, they’d blast the entire coating system off and do it again.

Licensed under Public Domain via Wikipedia

We drove about a half mile up the road where Juan’s brother did the abrasive blasting. 

They couldn’t tell you the difference between an SSPC SP5 NACE 1 and SSPC SP10 NACE 2, but they knew it needed to be white—and all the pieces they were working on were.

They weren’t checking the depth of the profile per ASTM D4417, but they knew it had to be uniformly rough, and they were using the right-sized media.   

They were even using gloves to move the pipes once they were blasted, knowing that any contaminants could be problematic.

And finally, while talking with Juan, he mentioned how they had to turn some jobs away because the pipe runs were too long or there were angles in the pipe where they couldn’t be certain they could effectively coat.

That sealed it: turning work away rather than doing it wrong. 

Without being overly dramatic, despite the 104-degree heat, I actually got a chill. 

Do they have work to do? Absolutely, and as I spoke, they took notes and we will speak again. 

They showed integrity and drive in wanting to do the best job they could—not only because it was good business, but also because it was part of who they are and it was the right thing to do.

In contrast, just the week earlier, I had been working for one of our clients who had miles of newly painted pipe-runs.

The side you could see was glossy and pristine, but I climbed a guard rail and over the pipes to take a look at the back side of the pipe and was not surprised to find this:

I found a suspiciously applied paint job on the back side of piping; the other side was pristine.

On June 18 of this year, PaintSquare published my blog entry titled, “Specifications: Does Anyone Still Care?” In that post I said it seemed to me there’s an epidemic of “I don’t care” in our industry punctuated by, “Let’s see what I can get away with.” 

It asked the question of all of us in the industry—engineers, suppliers, inspectors, contractors, consultants—“Does anyone care?”

The answer is yes: Juan, his family and his team, behind a huddle of small and well-kept homes, amidst the brown and burnt green of the scrub of the Permian Basin.

A breathtaking sunset in the Permian Basin.

 

ABOUT THE BLOGGER

Warren Brand

Warren Brand’s coatings career has ranged from entry-level field painting to the presidency of two successful companies. Over nearly three decades, he has project-managed thousands of coating installations and developed specs for thousands of paint and coating applications. NACE Level 3 and SSPC PCS certified, Brand, an MBA and martial-arts instructor, now heads Chicago Corrosion Group, a leading coatings consultancy. Contact Warren.

SEE ALL CONTENT FROM THIS CONTRIUBTOR

   

Tagged categories: Coating / Film thickness; Coating/Film Thickness; Coatings; Corrosion; Corrosion control coatings; Corrosion protection; Metal coatings; Pipelines; Powder coatings; Protective coatings

Comment from M. Halliwell, (8/19/2015, 10:41 AM)

Warren, it sounds like you found a trio of coatings craftsmen in this day and age. They may not be up on the science (exactly following specs and standards), but they certainly know the art of their craft and take pride in their craftsmanship. As I noted in your previous blog, this is the type of thing we need more of...folks taking ownership of and pride in their work. Too many see coatings as "just a job" and don't see the wider implications....like keeping a pipe from failing and causing an environmental mess, loss of property or even a loss of life. Big thumbs up for Juan and family.


Comment from peter gibson, (8/20/2015, 4:37 PM)

Great article on a simple operation trying to do the right thing. If your heart is in the right place you can move mountains.


Comment from Gregory Berg, (8/26/2015, 10:23 AM)

Excellent article. Coatings have been applied correctly for centuries by craftsmen who may not have known any of the science behind their trade. A little tribal knowledge, experience, and ownership of your work product can go a long way this day and age. Sadly its becoming a rarity. When I am in the field with applicators performing work, I always try to give them five minutes of detail regarding how their work fits into the overall big picture of the operation of a plant. I'm always surprised by the number of folks who are eager to listen and understand why I have asked them to put XYZ coating in a particular area and why its mission critical for them to be successful.


Comment from Warren Brand, (8/26/2015, 3:41 PM)

Thank you all for your kind comments. Much appreciated.


Comment from Billy Russell, (9/4/2015, 8:23 AM)

Great article !!!!!


Comment from Monica Chauviere, (9/4/2015, 8:41 AM)

I echo all of the above comments. Outstanding article, Warren. Thank you for sharing this insight with honesty, humility and your touch of humor. There are several lessons here, yes? And kudos to Gregory Berg, as well. I commend his practice of sharing with the craftsmen the importance of what they do and how so very much depends on the quality with which they do it. Just yesterday was telling a client/colleague that my experience in that regard has been 100% well-received. The men and women who bust butt out there, trying diligently to "do it right" deserve to know why a particular coating was selected and how that was implicated by conditions of the process or the application environment. Taking the time to share that means we care about them and respect them and their expertise at their craft.


Comment from Al Perez, (9/4/2015, 9:54 AM)

Warren, I much appreciate the fact that there remains a line of inspector blood which is carrying the torch of integrity. Great article!


Comment from Simon Hope, (9/8/2015, 4:22 AM)

Great story Warren, this proves to a point that quality is a much maligned word! here you have people producing the absolute best they can rather than the usual shyster seeing what they can get away with behind the inspectors back. Good on them and you for advertising what can be done, standards unfortunately seem to be used and set to bring things down t othe lowest common denominator!


Comment from Henry Vidal Capcha Varillas, (12/4/2015, 11:00 AM)

Great article!!!


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