Speir Hunter

Highlighting best practice as a representative in The Parliamentary Review

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Speir Hunter is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.


CEO Paul Jarram
SCT is a remote inspection
technique and detects
pipeline defects, reducing
the danger of pipeline
rupture without affecting
flow rates
Having worked with the University of Leeds to develop
a completely new method of inspecting underground
pipelines, Speir Hunter have deployed their technology
across the world. They have secured contracts in China, the
UAE and Australia, among others – something they have
achieved with only ten full-time employees. Since 2018, they
have sat on the ISO committee governing pipeline inspection
techniques. CEO Paul Jarram explains the development of
their product and why they are considering moving out of
We are a pioneering company in the true sense of the word and started with an
idea to do something completely new. The oil and gas industry need to transport
their products through pipelines without damaging the environment and while
complying with increasingly robust regulations. Pipelines buried underground are
the least expensive and most common means of transmission, with two million
kilometres commissioned globally, of which 35 per cent of pipelines are greater
than 40 years old and are susceptible to rupturing. Herein lay the opportunity.
At the time, there did not exist a direct method of inspecting the conditions of
pipelines over 40 years old. These indirect processes were also more expensive
than the inspection techniques applied to younger pipelines, which provide
reasonably reliable condition assessments. Our mission became to find a
consistently accurate way to inspect ageing transmission pipelines and bring it
»CEO: Paul Jarram
»Established in 2011
»Based in Newark,
»Services: Underground
pipeline inspection
»No. of employees: 10
Speir Hunter
Highlighting best practice
Breaking new ground
To do this, we needed to search for
laws of material behaviour that were
not known or, if they were known,
had not been put to use. We then
needed to engineer the science
into a tool that could deliver an
economic and accurate assessment of
pipelines. We compiled a requirements
specification and approached six of
the most reputable universities in the
UK. Only the University of Leeds took
the idea seriously, and, after several
meetings and warnings that we would
be embarking on a high-risk project,
contracts were signed. Two years
later, the university had engineered
little-known science into a system that
satisfied most of the requirements
in the original specification – and
one that had been proven to work
with the support of National Grid
allowing access to its gas transmission
pipelines. We called it “stress
These first steps into the unknown
were the easy part of our journey.
Now lay the task of persuading the
oil and gas industry that there was
a new inspection tool available. We
were, and are, dealing with industrial
giants, so, early on, and before we
went public, we filed for international
patent protection. Shell Global
Solutions was the first to recognise
the potential of the technology and
promptly commissioned Draper
Laboratories, a major US research and
development organisation, to develop
a similar system themselves. The patent
protection worked. Six years on, they
have not found a way around it, but
they are still trying.
Difficulties in the domestic
In the UK, we succeeded in gaining
interest from the National Grid, which
successfully applied for a £1.2 million
Innovation Funding Initiative grant to
extend SCT functionality to locate the
positions of girth welds and to report
the continuous depth of cover of its
pipelines. Over the previous ten years,
they had lost in excess of £9 million
by excavating in the wrong places and
in fines for gas leaks from pipelines
that had been ruptured by mechanical
damage. The annual savings were
expected to be a minimum of
£700,000 from excavating accurately
alone, and the rate of return would
therefore be less than two years.
Two years on from the start of the
project, the deliverables were achieved,
and SCT was approved for use by
National Grid engineering. However,
a further three years on from that, its
operations department still has not
deployed SCT, and the traditional,
unreliable techniques continue to
Global expansion
However, the UK government’s
investment has not been wasted.
As the owners of the IP, we have
successfully marketed this functionality
in North America. In Alberta, the depth
of cover function combined with
what are now established pipeline
wall condition features, detected and
reported lateral bending, high stress
Drone carried SCT
equipment can inspect
up to 10km of buried
pipeline every hour
SCT has been
approved for
use by
National Grid
but three
years on, its
still has not
deployed SCT
and buckling in a line carrying crude
oil. The owner took immediate action
and saved millions by preventing a spill
and thus preventing environmental
damage clean-up operations and
the associated fines that would have
In the US, SCT is being increasingly
deployed in geohazardous regions.
However, there remains little interest
in deploying SCT within the UK. In
autumn 2017, a trial was arranged
south of Aberdeen on a BP-owned
pipeline. The inspection report advised
BP that the pipeline was experiencing
severe stress in one specific location,
but no action was taken and the line
was subsequently sold to Inneos.
Within a month of ownership, the
pipeline ruptured in exactly the
location that SCT had predicted,
and gas supplies were subsequently
disrupted. When Inneos excavated the
line to undertake the repair, it was
found that the leak had been caused
by a cracked dent – a specifically high-
stress phenomenon.
Meanwhile, in France, we have
received enthusiastic support from
the country’s largest gas transmission
company, GRT Gaz, which has
awarded us annual inspection
contracts for the past four years.
Having been impressed by a first
trial in Australia, the Australian Gas
Infrastructure Group commissioned
a second trial of SCT in Western
Australia near Perth in December
2018. We had a 250-kilometre
inspection success in the UAE in 2018,
with more to follow in 2019, and a
trial in Saudi Arabia is scheduled for
July 2019. SCT has been deployed by
Petrochina and Sinopec in China, and
it is gaining traction in North America,
where three major companies are
Meanwhile, since summer 2018,
we have sat on the ISO committee
governing the regulation of pipeline
integrity inspection techniques. We
have achieved all of this with just ten
full-time UK-based employees.
We face great challenges but have
total confidence that we will find a
way through. These obstacles are
many and range from stubborn client
engineers to government policies.
Of our ten company employees, just
four are British: two are French, one
is American, one is Chinese, one is
Vietnamese and one is Iranian. Each
has unique skills, knowledge and
experience, but government policies
designed to restrict the employment
of foreign nationals are becoming
increasingly expensive. Equally
troublesome are policies under
discussion that, if implemented, may
lead the company to domicile outside
the UK. Considering this, and the lack
of interest in deploying SCT by the
UK’s largest gas transmission pipeline
operator, there really is little incentive
for the company to remain domiciled
in the UK.
Meanwhile, in
France, we
have received
support from
the country’s
largest gas
company, GRT
An ageing crude oil
pipeline crossing a valley.
The metal condition
of buried and exposed
segments can now be
assessed seamlessly for
the first time, minimising
possibility of leakage


This article was sponsored by Speir Hunter. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it.