In this week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode, Russel Treat welcomes first-time guest Sindee Lee (S.L.) Gillespie to discuss the interesting and unique world of protective coatings serving numerous industries, including pipelines.
Sindee Lee explains how she got into the business, starting her company (G.O.A. Enterprises), and how the coating business has changed over time. She also discusses the environmental concerns surrounding different types of coatings, serving the unique needs of her clients, and how to solve the issue of trying to coat in wet or humid conditions. It’s a fascinating conversation with plenty of new information for listeners.
Fundamentals of Coating: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms
- Sindee Lee (S.L.) Gillespie is the president of G.O.A. Enterprises. Connect with Sindee Lee on LinkedIn.
- Protective coatings are applied to pipelines to protect the integrity of the pipe, reduce corrosiveness, and extend longevity in its given atmosphere or location.
- VOC (volatile organic compounds) are chemicals that are released into the atmosphere when coatings are applied.
- The AIM (Architectural and Industrial Maintenance) Coatings Rule implemented by the EPA sets the limits for VOC content in architectural coatings, as measured by grams per liter. [View the Table on Page 10]
- The Clean Air Act is a joint effort of U.S. states and the EPA to solve air pollution problems through programs based on science and technology.
- EPA Method 24 is a test to determine the volatile matter content, water content, density, volume solids, and weight solids of surface coatings.
- Lead abatement is the process of eliminating lead-based paint hazards that stemmed from the popular coating used several decades ago.
- The BSEE (Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement) is a federal agency responsible for overseeing safety in offshore environments and protecting the environment related to offshore energy activity.
Fundamentals of Coating: Full Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, Episode 47.
Announcer: The Pipeliners Podcast, where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations. Now, your host, Russel Treat.
Russel: Thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. We appreciate you taking the time, and to show that appreciation, we’re giving away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener each episode.
This week, our winner is Madie Storr with Marathon Pipe Line. Congratulations, Madie, your YETI is on its way.
This week, at the request of some listeners who wanted to hear about coatings, we’re very lucky to have with us Sindee Lee Gillespie.
Well, Sindee. Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast.
Sindee Lee Gillespie: Well, thank you for having me, Russel.
Russel: I feel so awesome. This is our second Canadian guest to be on the podcast. Of course, you’re a transplant.
Sindee: [laughs] Go Canada. Yes.
Russel: Exactly. We asked you to come on today to talk about coatings. I know that’s a subject that’s near and dear to your heart.
Sindee: It is, yes.
Russel: Maybe you could tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into the coatings world.
Sindee: [laughs] Well, it’s so funny actually that we’re starting there because you have no idea how many times I’ve asked myself, “What on earth am I doing here?” [laughs]
No. Actually, I love the coating industry. I love my business. I’ve been self-employed or a business owner pretty much my entire working life. Doing this comes naturally to me.
I was actually introducing a new technology. We’re going to rewind 10 years. I was introducing a new technology to the marine industry. I’ve always been in industrial sales and in business development. I was introducing a combustion catalyst for bunker fuel, of all things. Met someone who knew the manufacturer of my coating, and they connected us.
I had a criteria for when I would initially evaluate a product to see if it fit with what I wanted to offer since G.O.A. Enterprises is my own business. One of the things is that it had to provide an immediate return on investment for my customer and then it also had to have a positive environmental benefit.
[laughs] Since you’ve already said I’m from Canada, I’m not a tree hugger by any stretch of the imagination, yet I did grow up on the farm and rural communities, so taking care of the land is actually something that’s important to me.
If there’s an environmental benefit and then an immediate economic benefit for my customer, that always really excites me. The coating met both of those. The bonus was that it was new to the U.S. market. It had been used around the world but hadn’t been introduced to the U.S., yet. I just love that.
I started doing some marketing research and found out that there was really nothing like it available here in the U.S. at all, which has turned out to be both a blessing and a curse some days. [laughs]
Russel: I think one of the things that maybe listeners to the Pipeliners Podcast might not understand, particularly if they’re not really in the pipeline world is the sales people, or the business development people, we’re doing the same thing that the operators are in that we’re looking for ways to make the industry better.
We have people to operate better and so forth. When we find something and we think it’s going to add value, then we tend to get excited. We want to run around and tell everybody about it.
Sindee: That was it. I was on a mission.
Russel: Exactly. As am I. I can relate to that very well. I want to talk about fundamentals of coatings, because we’ve had some requests from listeners to talk about coatings. Then, we’ll get into what’s unique about what you’re doing, because I think that’s really interesting.
Give me an overview. I’m a novice, here. I know enough about coatings to maybe spell “coatings,” so what are the various kinds of coatings?
Sindee: The protective coating industry is actually much more vast than most people even realize.
Russel: You know, Sindee, everything’s easy until you know enough about it.
Sindee: [laughs] Then, we’re all just dangerous, right? [laughs] In non-technical terms, the short version answer to that is there are coatings for every industry. Any place you have metal or concrete, you pretty much need a protective coating.
Just a few that I bump up against, there are coatings for petrochemical, oil and gas, industrial plants, marine, bridge, highway, power generation, and then even water and wastewater treatment.
Russel: I would assume that all of those coatings really have slightly different requirements, right?
Sindee: They do. One of the first standard answers when I get an inquiry, it’s like, “Can we use this coating here, as well?” It depends, because within each one of those, there were a ton of options depending on what you want the coating to do.
What’s the aim of the project? What’s the problem that you need to solve? What’s going on? Whether it’s for aesthetics or chemical resistance or corrosion control. There’s fire protection, flow properties, and even in the marine industry in the anti-biofouling market.
People always…I shouldn’t say people always. There are a great number of people that, depending on where you are in the oil and gas industry, a lot of times they get their wallets, “It’s just paint,” and I say, “Well, yeah. It’s just paint till something blows up, or something breaks in half and falls into the ocean.”
Russel: Anybody that’s done painting, even if you’ve done painting around the house, you know that if you use the right paint, it sticks to what you put it on and it looks good. If you use the wrong paint, it might not stick and it might not look good. That’s certainly overly simplistic, but it’s that simple, right?
Russel: The other issue is how often do you have to put it back on?
Sindee: There are so many factors, so we usually start with the project saying, “Okay, what’s the problem? What do you need done?” and work it back from there. There’s hundreds if not thousands of different coating types.
There are some that are more popular than others, but virtually every industry and, as I said, every place where there’s concrete or metal, there’s probably going to be a protective coating.
Russel: Sure. In the pipeline domain that there’s really…I’m going to put this forward and let you talk, too, because you certainly will know more better than me. In my mind, there’s three types of coating application. Above ground pipe, below ground pipe, and pipe that’s under water, and I would suspect that there’s differences between fresh water and salt water.
Sindee: When it comes to actually making a coating selection, I always say it’s like going to a car dealership. At first, you’ve got the basics, there’s four wheels and a motor. From there, there’s as well do you want a two door, a four door, truck, mini-van. I don’t even know, are they still making mini-vans? [laughs] Dating myself perhaps…
It’s just what you want the coating to do. As you said, there’s underground coating, so for buried or immersion service. For pipeline specifically, there’s what’s called the transition area, and that’s where pipe transitions from buried surface to above ground.
Then there’s atmospheric, so that’s all the above ground pipelines, combustion stations and that, and then within all that, there’s also the internal coatings and linings. It depends what the issue is, and what it is you’re wanting to achieve.
You are right. There are underwater coatings. I haven’t really done a lot with those in the U.S., simply because I looked for an area where I could serve my customers the most, and that wasn’t the one that I picked, but there are underwater coatings. [laughs]
Russel: Probably a good point here to segue into what you’re doing…I actually heard you on Mark LaCour’s…I think it was the HSE Podcast. I reached out to Mark and said, “Oh, you’ve got to give me that lady’s name and contact details.” Thank you, Mark. A shout-out to you if you’re listening.
It was really interesting to me what you were talking about, because most coatings, most paints, if you want to call them that, they’re actually some kind of hydrocarbon formulation and because of that, as they’re curing, they give off hydrocarbon emissions, if you will. I know that what you’re doing is something different, so maybe you could tell us a little bit about that.
Sindee: When it comes to the basic coating formulation, you have your resin and you have your hardener. You mix the two of them together, and as it cures, it forms the protective barrier. It then becomes the protective coating.
Within that, with all the solvents and all of the different chemical components that go actually into the coating itself, this country and many other countries, one of the things they’re concerned about the most is the VOC, the volatile organic compounds.
Years ago, back in 1940, they were using the coal tar enamels, which of course was giving off all kinds of things into the environment and into the ground, and as the coating technologies emerged, and of course, you get more people involved and more health risks and more environmental people that have an interest in what’s going on, both in the air and in the ground and in the water, a lot of coating manufacturers were having to reformulate, to reduce the VOCs.
The EPA has rules in place right now, laws we call them, [laughs] for what specific VOC levels the coatings must have when they’re used in a certain area.
Russel: What we’ll do there, Sindee, is, for those that interested in these details, we’ll just make sure that that’s in the show notes about the specifics of what those are. We’ll get with you and you can give us some links, and we’ll link up to the EPA sites where people can find some of these resources.
Sindee: Good luck with that. Yeah, Okay…
Russel: We’ll do it on the pipeline operations site, so I would assume we can find it on the others as well.
Sindee: Yeah. Anyway, that’s part of what has been unfolding in the coating industry is that they’re improving technologies, that they’re also having to improve the actual environmental profile as it were of the coatings themselves, just to be able to use them in certain areas of the country.
Russel: This is not unlike fugitive methane emissions and some of the other stuff that gets talked about. Certainly, there’s a lot of interest in the Clean Air Act, about VOCs and such. I know that if you’re applying these coatings depending on where you’re doing it, you can get into needs for ventilation and tinting and all kinds of stuff to control the VOCs and how they’re released.
Sindee: There’s some paint shops in Texas actually that they have to collect a lot of data for the EPA to show that with everything they’re doing, from all the machines that they’re using, that they are not above the levels of what EPA has designated are acceptable for the region.
Russel: This is a little segue. I’m former Air Force, and I did my first tour at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City. At that time, they rebuilt B-52s and KC-135s and A-7s. When I say rebuilt, that means they took them all the way apart, took all the coatings off all the parts, and then put all the parts back together.
Basically, put an old airplane in one into the factory, and got a new airplane out that looked the same. I spent my first six months as the guy that had to submit all the EPA reports.
Sindee: Oh, I am so sorry.
Russel: I wanted to be a civil engineer so I could work with steel, and what’s the first thing I get thrown at? It’s a hazardous waste treatment plant. The thing that was fascinating to me about that is that those coatings, particularly on these aircrafts…
This was back in the early ’80s, and those coatings were a couple of thousand dollars a gallon, because they were non-radar reflective, so they were very advanced. To get that stuff on the airplanes and to get that stuff off the airplanes, and the air handling and processing, and all the stuff you had to do was a big dadgum deal.
Sindee: We run into lead abatement all the time now, because that used to be everyone’s favorite coating, and then people started getting sick, and there was all kinds of things as a result of that.
The things that used to be in coatings that everyone thought made them great are items that are having to be replaced, and new innovation and new coatings being brought to the market that do equal if not better job, and yet in a much healthier way and still protect the substrate in everything that you’re doing.
Russel: Tell us about the coating that you found, and what got you excited about it, and how you came to decide you wanted to take that to work. What is it about this coating that…?
Sindee: This is my proud mama moment? [laughs]
Russel: Yeah, I guess it’s your proud mama moment. There you go.
Sindee: We touched on it a little bit. The coatings industry has evolved much like any other industry. We used to have cell phones that were the size of a loaf of bread, and computers that took up whole entire rooms, and now we’ve got both of them in one device that fits in the back pocket. It’s the same with coatings.
They’ve “Come a Long Way, Baby,” as I said, since the 1940s, the coal tar enamels that the pipelines were first using. After, I said at the beginning, about doing my marketing research, I did decide to take this on because it’s a protective coating that I import from the U.K., and it was actually developed for Scottish Power in Glasgow, Scotland, so that they could paint their — they call them electricity pylons in the U.K.; we call them transmission towers in Canada — but they had such a narrow window to do their paint program to protect the galvanized steel that their infrastructure was actually on the verge of imploding.
They put a plea out to the coating industry and said, “Okay. Who can come up with a coating,” and it had two or three criteria. It had to be something that was like a one coat that basically a guy could go up with a wire brush and get rid of the cobwebs and do some surface preparation, and then have some UV resistance built in.
There were nine companies that submitted formulations. It took Chemco I think about six years in research and development, and they were the only one that were able to meet all three criteria.
So, that is a one-coat system that we’ve got, and then we’ve got a solvent-free system that I call it the sister system. Again, based on everything we’ve said here about what system for which use, both actually are really unique and that they have no dew point or humidity restrictions, and they can be applied on wet substrate. Now, hopefully everyone’s still listening, because there’s a lot of people that don’t believe that, which I understand.
Russel: So, basically, what you’re saying is I can paint in the rain.
Sindee: You don’t want your workers out there in the rain, but what it means is you don’t have to take your equipment out of service or shut down the line if you’ve got sweating substrate or corrosion under insulation, or if you have a day that it’s 95 percent humidity.
We have no humidity and no dew point restrictions. Instead of paying contractors standby time or you can’t get the project start until noon, because of the dew point that you’re able to use this coating and get the job done.
We basically use them on everything from the wellheads out in the middle of Gulf of Mexico, some offshore platforms, too. I’ve got CUI at the natural gas processing plants in West Texas that we use the coatings. When I saw that…
I will tell you I am absolutely over the moon when a customer will evaluate the product. We usually go through a bit of a process with that, and we completely change what they’re able to do with their paint program. Probably it’s one of the first offshore operators in Gulf of Mexico that they’re running their paint program 12 months of the year now.
Russel: I can see why something designed specifically for the environment in Scotland could be a big deal. I actually lived in England for two years also, while I was in the Air Force.
I can tell you there was a stretch of 67 days where it rained all day long, every day, and it wasn’t real rain. It was basically water just hanging in the air. They don’t have that many days where you have dry sunny days to do that kind of work.
Sindee: What’s cool about that is that even though it was designed to be used in the really high humidity and wet environments….we get out to West Texas, where they don’t have humidity problems, per se.
Yet, because of all the natural gas processing and everything that they’re doing, the substrate is so cold compared to the ambient temperature that they’ve got wet sweating pipes all the time and corrosion under insulation as well.
That was just where I felt like that I could serve my customers the most, offer them the most benefit, because when you don’t have to start shutting down process lines or shutting off equipment. Again, there are some parameters…
The one coating that we use the most for that I’ve got to have a minimum of 41 degrees Fahrenheit substrate temperature to about 302 degrees Fahrenheit. We don’t coat stuff that’s 20 or 800 degrees, although I do have coatings for those, but the ones that I’m talking about specifically today…
As I said, I saw that. I saw what I could do for the end users, and really in one way it opened up all kinds of opportunities for companies to change their paint programs.
Russel: That’s big, that’s big. The other thing to think about here is…Mark made this point on his “HSE Podcast” about safety and how this relates to safety. There’s a correlation between the man hours related to do a task and the level of risk you have in that task. If I can do something with less man hours, then I’m reducing risk by definition.
Sindee: One of the projects that we had — just to give an example of the time that’s shortened on a project when you’re using one of my systems — we had an offshore operator, and they were going to be written up by the government entity BSEE, and they had a very narrow window to get their job done, or they were actually going to shut the platform down.
My contractor got a phone call, and he says, “Who’s the crazy lady with coatings that we can get our job done faster?” They actually had 16 days for the project. They had 2 mobilization, 2 demobilization, and then 12 days of painting. Then, using one of my systems, they were able to reduce it to actually 2 days of mobilization of course, 2 days of demobilization, but they took 12 days of painting down to 4.
Russel: How were they able to do that? How did the get 12 days down to 4 days?
Sindee: Typically, when you use a three-coat system, you have to take it back to usually near-white metal blast, the surface preparation. In my coatings, you don’t have to do that, so there’s less surface preparation. Then, you have to have your first coat put on, and then usually wait a day, and then do a second coat, and wait a day, and do the third coat, and then you’re finished.
If there was any kind of high humidity or anything along in there, any dew point, and if it’s rained, then you’ve got to take the coating all off, and start all over again and go back to near white metal blast. You don’t have the same stop points in a project that you would normally have.
Russel: You’ve got a greater range of environmental conditions and surface prep conditions you can work with.
Sindee: Yeah, yeah.
Russel: That’s interesting. That’s interesting. We ought to probably talk about the VOC aspect of this as well. I know we talked about it a little bit earlier. How does this product reduce VOCs?
Sindee: I’ve got two systems, and we use them both again depending on if someone needs built-in UV protection, where we would use, let’s say, the one-coating system, and I’ve also got the solvent-free system with no solvent and with the formulation of the product. It’s actually a near-zero VOC product.
We’ve had it tested to the EPA method 24 in a U.S. laboratory, and it was 44 grams a liter. The other one that I was talking about — the one that was one designed for Scottish Power — it’s got about 200 grams a liter of VOCs.
The important part about this, even if you don’t ever use my coating, the one thing that I think is the most important thing for people to remember when they’re evaluating a system and they’re looking at the history of it, these coatings, because they were from Europe, they were made that way.
All the customers, everything we’ve got back since 2002 that have been using these systems around the world, it’s the original formula. If you’re evaluating the coating system that you’ve got, ask how long that particular formula has actually been in use, because what’s happened is in…
Coating manufacturers needed to re-formulate to bring down the VOCs, so it’s not always the same formula of a product. The bigger companies have new products coming out all the time, all the multinationals, because they’re in the business of selling as many gallons of a paint as they can.
There’s a lot of times that there’s the new coating that they come out with that’s a different formula that really hasn’t been in use very long, and yet, because it’s a well-known name brand, everyone just assumes that it’s been around for 30 years.
Russel: That’s a really good point. Basically, anytime the EPA changes rules, the coating manufacturers have to respond, and they’re not necessarily changing their brand names. They’re just reformulating their products, and basically a reformulated product is a different product. Interesting.
Sindee: There’s not necessarily 10 years worth of product history at that VOC level, and that’s where you can start to have more coating failures and that type of thing, because it just doesn’t have the history and use at that level.
Russel: Where would this apply for pipeliners? Where would your product make sense for pipeline operators?
Sindee: Where I think that we could solve the most problems for them…As I said, the whole goal of Chemco and of myself, and I think I said it in my bio, we’re professional problem-solvers. That’s always the angle that I look at.
Anyplace where we have the transition coatings or the transition areas, where you need to be having some additional UV protection, compression stations, anyplace where you’ve got sweating pipes. For pipelines specifically, that’s where I think the greatest benefit would be.
Russel: Certainly, you would see that kind of thing potentially around gas storage, where you’re expanding the gas or compressing the gas, and that’s caused a temperature difference, so certainly that’s a possibility.
Sindee: Yeah, and even any place where it’s a humid or a typically prone to rain environment, or an area where you’ve got a window that’s typically your rainy season, but you’ve got to get some corrosion protection on your pipeline.
Even if your pipeline is dry as a bone, but it’s some place where you get a lot of rain through the summer and you get out along East Coast, Alabama, Mississippi, you get really high humidity. There’s another area where even though the substrate may not necessarily be wet, because we can coat dry substrate as well. I neglected that point, [laughs] and we do it often.
We also coat dry surfaces but anything where you need to speed up production. Out in the Gulf of Mexico, when we were doing the wellheads, we did the first coat, even though it’s a one coat system we apply into because that’s a better paint practice. We did one coat and then, in an hour-and-a-half, we’re doing the second coat, and it’s done.
Sindee: Yeah, and then they move on to the next wellhead.
Russel: You don’t have to wait 24 hours for it to cure before you…
Sindee: No, not at all.
Russel: That’s a big deal. I could see where the offshore operators with production platforms and facility style separation platforms and all that kind of stuff, where that could be a big thing, too. Also, given that you don’t have to do the same level of surface preparation, the surface preparation on bare metal on platform, that’s a painful process.
Sindee: Yeah, so using our coating, water jetting is our preferred method because it can be applied on a wet surface, so you don’t have to grit blast, you don’t have transport your grit back and dispose it, and same with the pipelines, too.
Russel: One of the things, Sindee, I like to do when I have this kind of conversation…this is all a new subject matter to me. I’m sitting here and my wheels are turning a little bit in my head, and I’m trying to organize what all you’re saying. What I like to do is come up with three key takeaways.
I’m going to come up with three key takeaways. I’m going to assume somebody who’s got the responsibility for applying coatings to some things, and I don’t know anything about coatings, so what would be my three key takeaways?
I think the first one is it’s complicated, that there’s a lot of choices, and there’s a lot of applications, and the trick is to match the choice to the application. That’s the first key takeaway.
The second key takeaway is that you have to look at the entire process, surface preparation, application, and curing and understand the full range of what has to happen in order to get the coating applied.
Sindee: Correct, yeah.
Russel: Then, lastly, you really need to be working with people who are knowledgeable about the different kinds of formulations and how those formulations are well-applied. That had to be my three key takeaways. How do you think I did?
Sindee: I think those are great. I will tell you one thing [laughs] that I have learned after being in this business. When you’re saying working with knowledgeable people, it is so interesting.
Everyone has an opinion and it’s not always the same opinion, because there’s people that feel comfortable with one type of technology, and that’s all that they want to use, and they don’t care about anything new. There are other people that need to solve their problem at whatever cost and they’re open to something new.
Just because someone says something doesn’t work, I’m hoping that your listeners will at least have their mind open to the fact that there are other options for them, and even if they don’t want to explore with my coating, there’s all kinds of new technology out there that…
Russel: The way I frame that conversation is it’s a risk conversation. Pipeliners, by their nature, are risk averse and for good reason. Change represents risks. If I have something I’m using, at least I have a whole lot of knowns around it. I know what it requires to apply it. I know how well it performs.
If I want to do something different, then I don’t know. Again, I think it’s a big part of what we do as sales professionals is we work with our customers and people that are interested in what we’re saying and what we have to offer to educate them. When I do that, I always get educated as well.
I like your frame. I like where you say, “We’re problem-solvers.” That’s really what it’s all about is understanding what the problem is and what’s the right solution. Occasionally, you find an operator. They have a problem, and it’s not one you can solve. You say, “Well, here’s this other company that does something a little different than me. They’re going to be a better fit for you.”
I don’t know about you. I love this business. I love the people in this business. I care about the people in this business. Ultimately, we all kind of have a fiduciary responsibility to protect the environment and to have these operations work more safely. I take that very seriously. I’m sure you do, too.
Sindee: Right. Yeah, absolutely.
Russel: Look, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your expertise.
Sindee: Thank you.
Russel: I know more about coatings than I ever knew I was going to want to. That’s awesome. That’s the whole reason we do this. Thanks again. Hope to have you back in the future.
Sindee: Well, thank you very much, Russel.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Sindee Lee Gillespie. Certainly, I know more about coatings than I did before we started.
Just a reminder before you go that you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit pipelinepodcastnetwork.com/win to enter yourself in the draw.
Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.
Transcription by CastingWords