Major catastrophes in the US have changed the way pipelines are regulated across the country. The newly DNV-acquired company Cortest Columbus Technologies has been instrumental in developing new industry standards.
In June 1999 a gasoline pipeline ruptures in Bellingham, Washington. Almost one million litres of gasoline are released and ignite, sending a fireball racing down a creek resulting in the death of two 10-year-old boys and an 18-year-old man.
In August the next year, a natural gas transmission pipeline ruptures near Carlsbad, New Mexico. The released gas ignites, resulting in twelve fatalities of persons who were camping near by.
“After the Bellingham catastrophe, CC Technologies was involved in assisting in the return to service of the pipeline,” says Dr. Neil G. Thompson, the president and founder of the company. “CC Technologies has assisted in restoring public confidence in the pipeline operation through public relations, public awareness, and emergency preparedness meetings for communities along the pipeline right-of-way.”
After the next catastrophe – in Carlsbad – the scope was extended. CC Technologies became even more instrumental in the more long-term development of new industry standards and in promoting pipeline integrity to help insure public safety and to protect the environment.
Aging Pipelines. When considering both transmission and distribution pipelines, one third of the global oil and gas pipeline infrastructure is within North America. Over 50 per cent of the pipelines in the US are 40 years or older. Around 80 per cent cannot be inspected using traditional tools.
Some operators are still managing the integrity of pipelines originally fabricated more than 70 years ago – well before the concept of integrity management and intelligent pigging were established. Although tragic failures have occurred, the challenge remains to utilise integrity and risk-based management approaches to permit aging pipelines to be operated safely.
It is not only in Bellingham and Carlsbad that leakages occur. No one can be sure how big the total figures in the US are, but the annual leakage rate of oil is reported to be similar to the worst-ever oil spill disaster in the US, the Exxon Valdez, from which the total leakage was 40 million litres.
Risk-based approach. Dr. Thomson says: “The most significant factor is that pipelines continue to age making the consequences of even relatively low corrosion rates more and more significant. If not controlled, the relatively good safety and leakage performance of the majority of the US pipeline system will become worse. A positive change has to be achieved in a cost-effective way. We have to assist the operators in finding the correct balance between safety and cost.”
“There is no quick fix, neither here nor in other parts of the world. But the good thing is that the general focus has shifted to an integrity management and risk-based approach. There is a need for a documented, implemented and on-going integrity management programme for all pipeline systems.”
A new strong unit. The US is predicted to have a major increase in gas consumption over the next 20 years. This increase will need to be delivered through the aging pipeline system.
Over the past few years, there has been a strong focus on the North American pipeline systems, but the challenges are similar in other parts of the world, too. Increased focus on pipeline integrity is expected in South America, the Middle East, parts of Asia, and the former Soviet Union.
Even with the significant challenges of maintaining a safe and reliable pipeline delivery system, Dr. Thomson is an optimist. He says: “We will together be a strong unit within this market. DNV and CCT have very complementary technological and market positions, and this acquisition will improve our expertise and services.”