The United States has the world’s largest infrastructure of fuel pipelines, with a network of approximately 2.6 million miles of pipeline transporting liquid petroleum and natural gas fuels across the country.
With a huge volume of fuels transported by pipeline on a daily basis, at times through aging pipes and other equipment, damage sometimes occurs. Leaky pipelines can have a significant environmental impact and require costly repairs. Corrosion resistant industrial spray coatings offer one of the most effective pipeline leak repair methods.
What Are the Dangers of Pipelines?
The pipeline network of the United States is generally regarded as a safer, more efficient and less costly means of delivering fuels than other forms of transportation such as tanker trucks or trains.
Nevertheless, incidents involving pipeline leaks or failures, while occurring less often, can have a bigger impact than those involving trains or trucks. Damage or failures of pipelines can lead to fuel leaks, fires and explosions which can cause injuries, fatalities, damage to homes and in some cases the evacuation of communities in close proximity to the spill. These can lead to millions of dollars in costs: in 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that leaked natural gas alone cost $194 million a year.
The primary causes of pipeline incidents are material failures, welding failures and equipment failures. Other causes of pipeline damage are corrosion, excavation damage and collisions with construction equipment, as well as natural force damage, including hurricanes, earth movement and geological hazards.
The primary two types of pipeline failures are leaks and ruptures. Leaks involve slow releases of the fuel product over time and can be more common but cause less damage. Ruptures involve sudden breaches in the pipeline, are relatively rare but can cause significantly more damage.
Gas pipeline ruptures combined with ignition have led to devastating fires, while oil pipeline ruptures have spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil, leading to major environmental contamination.
How Long Do Pipelines Last?
Gas pipelines are designed to be highly durable but eventually show significant wear and tear under the stresses of high-pressure operation. Natural gas pipelines have a useful life of approximately 50 years. Well-constructed pipelines can exceed their estimated lifespan through effective inspection, maintenance and repairs rather than extensive replacement.
Leaks most common type of failure seen in aging pipeline infrastructure. Since 2010, about 8.9 million gallons of crude oil from about 1,300 spills have leaked from pipelines in the United States, according to a study by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The PHMSA also reported that pipeline operators contain most of those spills, usually on-site, and more than 70 percent of that spilled oil has been recovered.
Since 2009, an increase in production of U.S. crude oil has also seen an increase in oil and petroleum pipeline leaks of almost 60 percent. Nearly two-thirds of the leaks are linked to corrosion or welding or equipment failures, often due to aging pipelines.
How Can You Repair Old Pipelines?
Steel pipelines buried underground can experience high levels of corrosion due to contact with the soil, but protective industrial coatings can prevent corrosion. With some coatings, the polar bonding of the molecules in the coating form strong adhesion to the steel surface, providing a durable coat.
Pipeline repair specialists use different methods to fix damaged pipes. Fully replacing the damaged pipe can be the most expensive solution, as it usually requires an interruption in pipeline service. “Hot tapping” allows service to continue uninterrupted as it involves bypassing the damaged section with a new section of pipe. Other repairs involve mechanically fixing the steel sleeve.
Pipeline coating repair is one of the most cost-effective methods for repairing high-pressure transmission pipelines. An industrial spray coating can be used to repair most internal and external leaks on straight pipe, elbows, tees, reducers and risers in high-temperature, underwater and offshore platform applications. Some coatings are designed for quick application and cure.
High performance spray coatings also can reduce the likelihood of an oxidizing attack by providing a barrier between the steel pipeline surface and direct contact with water, soil or air.
With such high volumes of fuel transported via U.S. pipelines every day, and such serious consequences in the event of serious leaks or ruptures, pipeline leak repair methods need to be as fast and efficient as possible. Spray coatings can repair pipeline leaks, protect pipelines from corrosion and make the systems safer.