How the science of pipeline integrity keeps oil and gas pipelines safe

Pipeline integrity is the process of ensuring that a pipeline operates safely, reliably and sustainably.

Pipeline integrity management starts with the design, engineering and construction of the pipeline, and continues throughout its lifecycle with constant monitoring and ongoing inspections.

All pipeline companies have an integrity management program to help them identify and fix potential problems long before they become an issue. Some of the many different tools and technologies they use to maintain the integrity of their pipelines include the following:

Coatings – a protective barrier that helps protect the pipeline against corrosion.

Cathodic protection – a small electric current flows through the ground moisture to the pipeline and redirects the corrosion into anodes which rust instead of the pipeline.

Inspections – pipelines are monitored by inspection crews on the ground and from the air using planes, helicopters and drones. Some pipeline companies even use detector dogs.

Sensors – highly sensitive sensor technology is used to monitor the flow, pressure and temperature of the product in the pipeline, searching for any anomalies that could indicate a potential problem.

SCADA – Skilled operators monitor pipelines from control rooms 24/7. SCADA technology (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) systems alert them to any problems or anomalies, and the operators have the authority to shut the pipeline down immediately if there is an emergency situation.

Smart PIGs – pipeline operators use in-line inspection tools, or smart pipeline inspection gauges (PIGs) to inspect pipelines from the inside. These tools travel down the pipeline for the purpose of maintenance or inspection. Depending on the type of PIG being used, they either scrub the pipe clean, or collect detailed data on the condition of the pipe along its entire length.

What happens when a problem is identified?

With all this sophisticated technology, it’s not surprising that most anomalies are discovered long before they cause a leak or a spill. Operators take these warnings very seriously – and if an emergency is recognized, they will act quickly to mitigate damage to the community and/or environment.

Because pipelines are buried underground, it’s occasionally necessary to excavate the area around the pipeline to inspect for damage or wear and tear. This is called an integrity dig. The pipeline operator excavates the area around a section of pipeline that has been flagged by leak detection technology and conducts a detailed inspection. Repairs or maintenance can then be done before the pipeline is reburied.

Sometimes it’s possible to conduct an integrity dig without even shutting down the pipeline.

 

Despite all these safeguards, leaks do occasionally happen. That’s why all pipeline operators have comprehensive emergency response plans and conduct regular practice drills. Canada’s transmission pipeline companies also have a Mutual Emergency Assistance Agreement whereby they offer each other resources and supplies in the event of an emergency.

Pipeline Benefits

5 ways you benefit from pipelines

Have you ever wondered whether we need pipelines? The simple answer is that oil and gas pipelines, and the products they transport, impact every aspect of our daily lives.

Canada’s transmission pipeline companies transport crude oil, refined oil products and natural gas across Canada and the United States. Here are just a few of the ways everyone in Canada benefits from their operations:

1. Safe, reliable transportation of fuel: Pipelines transport more than a billion barrels of oil every year. They bring us the fuel we need to heat our homes, power our vehicles and cook with; they help keep planes in the sky and our country on the move.

Fuel fact A: Compared to rail and trucks, pipelines are safer and more economical way to transport the products that fuel our lives.

Fuel fact B: Although alternative energies are making huge strides, the technology is not yet there to provide a reliable, affordable alternative to oil and gas.

2. Raw materials for manufacturing: Every day you interact with thousands of items that are made from petroleum products. Plastics, paint, rubber and nylon are a few of the materials we have thanks to the petroleum products transported in pipelines. Electronics, ink, crayons, toothbrushes and bandages are just some of the products we would not enjoy without oil and gas.

Pipelines transport the petroleum products that provide our manufacturing industries with a reliable supply of affordable raw materials. Without them, you might not even have access to the electronic device you’re reading this article on!

3. Pipeline companies provide opportunities: Pipeline companies provide thousands of jobs – both directly as well as indirectly – with the service companies and ancillary industries that work with pipeline operators and oil and gas companies. The jobs they provide help boost local economies across Canada.

Many pipeline companies also work with aboriginal communities to provide training and career prospects.

4. Pipeline companies invest in their communities: Pipeline companies believe they have a responsibility to share the benefits of their construction and operations with the communities where they work. They invest millions of dollars every year in community initiatives.

5. Fueling the economy: In 2016, Canada’s transmission pipeline companies alone contributed $1.5 billion to government tax revenues. Everyone in Canada benefits from these government revenues and the services they provide.

If you use Canada’s roads, health services, schools, libraries and other services, then you benefit from pipelines.

These are just a few of the benefits of pipelines. As you go about your day today, take a minute to think about how your life would be different without pipelines and the materials they transport.

 

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