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Oil pipeline

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Oil pipeline

Pipeline transport is the transportation of goods through a pipe. Most commonly, liquids and gases are sent, but pneumatic tubes using compressed air can also transport solid capsules.

As for gases and liquids, any chemically stable substance can be sent through a pipeline. Therefore sewage, slurry, water, or even beer pipelines exist; but arguably the most valuable are those transporting crude petroleum and refined petroleum product including fuels: oil (oleoduct), natural gas (gas grid), and biofuels.

Types by transported substance

For oil or natural gas

It is uncertain when the first crude oil pipeline was built. Credit for the development of pipeline transport is disputed, with competing claims for Vladimir Shukhov and the Branobel company in the late 19th century, and the Oil Transport Association, which first constructed a 2-inch (51 mm) wrought iron pipeline over a 6-mile (9.7 km) track from an oil field in Pennsylvania to a railroad station in Oil Creek, in the 1860s. Pipelines are generally the most economical way to transport large quantities of oil, refined oil products or natural gas over land. Natural gas is methane and is found in nature mixed with other gases, mainly propane and butane. LPG as propane or LP gas and butane are wet gases when under light pressure are liquids and thus are called Natural Gas Liquids or NGL's.

These small NGL processing facilities can be located in oil fields so the butane and propane liquid under light pressure of 125 pounds per square inch, can be shipped by rail, truck or pipeline. Propane can be used as a fuel in oil fields to heat various facilities used by the oil drillers or equipment and trucks used in the oil patch. EG: Propane will convert from a gas to a liquid under light pressure under 40 PSI, give or take depending on temperature, and is pumped into cars and trucks at less than 125 PSI at retail stations. Pipelines and rail cars use about double that pressure to pump at 250 PSI. To convert PSI pressure to metric pascals, multiply one PSI is 6,894.75 pascals which is the same as 2.0360 inches of mercury.

The distance to ship propane to markets is much shorter as thousands of NGL processing plants are located in oil fields or close by when a number of pipelines tie into each other from various relatively close fields. Many Bakken Basin oil companies in North Dakota, Montana, Manitoba and Saskatchewan gas fields separate the NGL's in the field, allowing the drillers to sell propane directly to small wholesalers, eliminating the large refinery control of product and prices for propane or butane. One oil company operating in the Bakken in ND, stated two weeks ago, that the estimate of 577 billion barrels of oil-gas in the Bakken, should be upgraded to 903 billion barrels.

Present industry figures show about 60 percent of propane-butane was produced BEGO from gas fields while the other 40 percent was produced at oil refineries when a barrel of oil is cracked or refined into various products. With the huge amount of oil and gas fracking or fracing or fracture of oil bearing rock around North America over the past 6 years, I would estimate that now about 70 percent of propane-butane mixed with other NGL's, is produced from oil and gas fields, with the balance of 30 percent of propane-butane produced from oil refineries when oil is cracked. Both propane used as auto fuel HD5 grade and butane, bring a higher value to any drilling company, so they explore the WET gas fields first, to bring in more money than a dryer gas well.

The most recent major pipeline to start operating in North America, is a TransCanada natural gas line going north across the Niagara region bridges with Marcellus shale gas from Pennsylvania and others tied in methane or natural gas sources, into the Canadian province of Ontario as of the fall of 2012, supplying 16 percent of all the natural gas used in Ontario.

This new U.S. supplied natural gas displaces the natural gas formerly shipped to Ontario from western Canada in Alberta and Manitoba, thus dropping the government regulated pipeline shipping charges because of the significantly shorter distance from gas source to consumer. Compared to shipping by railroad, pipelines have lower cost per unit and higher capacity.

To avoid delays and U.S. government regulation, many small, medium and large oil producers in North Dakota, have decided to run an oil pipeline north to Canada to meet up with a Canadian oil pipeline shipping oil from west to east. This allows the Bakken Basin and Three Forks oil producers to get higher negotiated prices for their oil because they will not be restricted to just one wholesale market in the U.S. The distance from the biggest oil patch in ND, is Williston, ND, only about 85 miles or 137 kilometers to the Canadian border and Manitoba. Mutual funds and joint ventures are big investors in new oil and gas pipelines as they are very long term and have set fees that both U.S and Canada that guarantee a profit to pipe the oil or gas or NGL. Recently in the fall of 2012, the U.S. is now exporting propane to Europe, known as LPG, as wholesale prices there are much higher than in North America.

As more North American pipelines are built, even more exports of LNG, propane and butane etc., will occur on all three U.S. coasts. To give insight, North Dakota's oil production has grown to 5 times in late 2012 compared to what it was just 6 years ago creating thousands of good paying long term jobs. ND oil companies are shipping huge amounts of oil by tanker rail car as they can direct the oil to the market that gives the best price but pipelines are cheaper. Rail cars can be used to avoid a congested oil pipeline to get the oil to a different pipeline and get the oil to market faster and different less busy oil refineries.

Canada is reversing and converting the major natural gas pipeline going from east-to-west and expanding it and using it to ship western Canadian oil eastward. From a presently rated 250,000 barrels equivalent per day pipeline, it will be expanded to between one million to 1.3 million barrels per day to ship oil instead of natural gas. Since this natural gas pipeline already exists, it will bring western oil to refineries in Ontario, Michigan, Ohio, PA, Quebec and New York by early 2014. New Brunswick will also refine some of this western Canadian crude and export some crude and refined oil to Europe from its deep water oil ULCC loading port. This oil will displace Brent crude imported into any U.S. eastern seaboard refinery, wanting to buy much cheaper North American oil, than importing it from overseas and Central and South America. The normal price spread between imported light Brent oil and WTI, West Texas Intermediate oil, is about $15 to $20 per barrel and as high as $30 in 2012. Alaska and Louisiana both have very light crude and the spot price for it is very close to the daily Brent price.

As of 17 December 2012, the spot price for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil delivered (primarily via pipeline) at Cushing, Oklahoma was $86.71 while Brent oil (a benchmark price for oil delivered all over the world, primarily via ship) was $109.35. A spread of more than $22 per barrel.[2]

Additional future pipelines should drop both the spot wholesale and long term contract prices of oil for eastern seaboard U.S and Canadian refineries. Refineries may be able to drop wholesale prices of gasoline, diesel fuel, home heating oil and jet fuel while making higher profits than they are making now once the western Canadian oil starts to flow east in the 2014 Q1 completed expanded oil pipeline.

Some parts of that pipeline will be pumping oil sometime in 2013 to Ontario crossing into Port Huron, Michigan from Sarnia, Ontario. That oil pipeline, which also carries North Dakota crude oil through Canada, can be expanded to triple or quadruple its planned one million barrel per day limit when required. This Canadian oil pipeline is a huge threat to OPEC and their control of world market prices of crude oil. Maybe we should call this new supply of western oil COP, or Canadian Oil Price.

Although pipelines can be built under the sea, that process is economically and technically demanding, so the majority of oil at sea is transported by tanker ships.

The market size for oil and gas pipeline construction experienced tremendous growth prior to the economic downturn in 2008. The industry grew from $23 billion in 2006 to $39 billion in 2008.[3] After faltering in 2009, demand for pipeline expansion and updating increased the following year as energy production grew.[4] By 2012, almost 32,000 miles of North American pipeline were being planned or under construction.[5] Several major North American pipelines under development in 2012 included:[5]

  • Sand Hills Pipeline: This pipeline is being developed by DCP Midstream. It will extend for 700 miles from West to East Texas and have an initial capacity of approximately 120,000 per day.[5] The first segment of the pipeline opened in October 2012.[6]
  • Pecos River Pipeline: Developed by Bridger Group and Advantage Pipeline, the Pecos River Pipeline will provide a link from the Delaware Basin to the Gulf Coast. The pipeline will run from the Pecos, Texas, to Crane, Texas, where it will connect to the Longhorn Pipeline. The Pecos River Pipeline will have an initial capacity of 150,000 barrels per day.[7]
  • Sterling III Pipeline: Under development from Oneok Partners, the Sterling III Pipeline will extend from parts of Texas and Oklahoma in the Mid-Continent region to the Gulf Coast, and have a capacity of approximately 193,000 barrels per day.[8]

As of December 2012, construction was halted on TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline in East Texas after a landowner filed a lawsuit claiming TransCanada misrepresented the type of fuel the pipeline would transport. The pipeline is awaiting a presidential permit after TransCanada was required to reroute the pipeline in portions of Nebraska to avoid environmentally sensitive areas.[10][11]

Oil pipelines are made from steel or plastic tubes with inner diameter typically from 4 to 48 inches (100 to 1,220 mm). Most pipelines are typically buried at a depth of about 3 to 6 feet (0.91 to 1.83 m). To protect pipes from impact, abrasion, and corrosion, a variety of methods are used. These can include wood lagging (wood slats), concrete coating, rockshield, high-density polyethylene, imported sand padding, and padding machines.[12]

The oil is kept in motion by pump stations along the pipeline, and usually flows at speed of about 1 to 6 metres per second (3.3 to 19.7 ft/s). Multi-product pipelines are used to transport two or more different products in sequence in the same pipeline. Usually in multi-product pipelines there is no physical separation between the different products. Some mixing of adjacent products occurs, producing interface, also known in the industry as "transmix." At the receiving facilities this interface is usually absorbed in one of the products based on pre-calculated absorption rates. Alternately, transmix may be diverted and shipped to facilities for separation of the commingled products.[13]

Crude oil contains varying amounts of paraffin wax and in colder climates wax buildup may occur within a pipeline. Often these pipelines are inspected and cleaned using pipeline inspection gauges, pigs, also known as scrapers or Go-devils. Smart pigs (also known as intelligent or intelligence pigs) are used to detect anomalies in the pipe such as dents, metal loss caused by corrosion, cracking or other mechanical damage.[14] These devices are launched from pig-launcher stations and travel through the pipeline to be received at any other station down-stream, either cleaning wax deposits and material that may have accumulated inside the line or inspecting and recording the condition of the line.

For natural gas, pipelines are constructed of carbon steel and vary in size from 2 to 60 inches (51 to 1,524 mm) in diameter, depending on the type of pipeline. The gas is pressurized by compressor stations and is odourless unless mixed with a mercaptan odorant where required by a regulating authority.

For ammonia

Highly toxic ammonia is theoretically the most dangerous substance to be transported through long-distance pipelines. However, incidents on ammonia-transporting lines are uncommon - unlike on industrial ammonia-processing equipment.

A major example of ammonia pipeline is the Ukrainian Transammiak line connecting the TogliattiAzot facility in Russia to the exporting Black Sea-port of Odessa.

For biofuels (ethanol and biobutanol)

Pipelines have been used for transportation of ethanol in Brazil, and there are several ethanol pipeline projects in Brazil and the United States.[15] Main problems related to the shipment of ethanol by pipeline are its high oxygen content, which makes it corrosive, and absorption of water and impurities in pipelines, which is not a problem with oil and natural gas.[15][16] Insufficient volumes and cost-effectiveness are other considerations limiting construction of ethanol pipelines.[16][17]

For coal and ore

Slurry pipelines are sometimes used to transport coal or ore from mines. The material to be transported is closely mixed with water before being introduced to the pipeline; at the far end, the material must be dried. One example is a 525 km slurry pipeline which is planned to transport iron ore from the Minas-Rio mine (producing 26.5 million tonnes per year) to a port at Açu in Brazil.[18] An existing example is the 85 km Savage River Slurry pipeline in Tasmania, Australia, possibly the world's first when it was built in 1967. It includes a 366m bridge span at 167m above the Savage River.[19][20]

For hydrogen

Hydrogen pipeline transport is a transportation of hydrogen through a pipe as part of the hydrogen infrastructure. Hydrogen pipeline transport is used to connect the point of hydrogen production or delivery of hydrogen with the point of demand, with transport costs similar to CNG,[21] the technology is proven.[22] Most hydrogen is produced at the place of demand with every 50 to 100 miles (160 km) an industrial production facility.[23] The 1938 - Rhine-Ruhr 240 km hydrogen pipeline is still in operation.[24] As of 2004 there are 900 miles (1,400 km) of low pressure hydrogen pipelines in the USA and 930 miles (1,500 km) in Europe.

For water

Main article: Aqueduct (watercourse)

Two millennia ago the ancient Romans made use of large aqueducts to transport water from higher elevations by building the aqueducts in graduated segments that allowed gravity to push the water along until it reached its destination. Hundreds of these were built throughout Europe and elsewhere, and along with flour mills were considered the lifeline of the Roman Empire. The ancient Chinese also made use of channels and pipe systems for public works. The famous Han Dynasty court eunuch Zhang Rang (d. 189 AD) once ordered the engineer Bi Lan to construct a series of square-pallet chain pumps outside the capital city of Luoyang.[25] These chain pumps serviced the imperial palaces and living quarters of the capital city as the water lifted by the chain pumps was brought in by a stoneware pipe system.[25][26]

Pipelines are useful for transporting water for drinking or irrigation over long distances when it needs to move over hills, or where canals or channels are poor choices due to considerations of evaporation, pollution, or environmental impact.

The 530 km (330 mi) Goldfields Water Supply Scheme in Western Australia using 750 mm (30 inch) pipe and completed in 1903 was the largest water supply scheme of its time.[27][28]

Examples of significant water pipelines in South Australia are the Morgan-Whyalla (completed 1944) and Mannum-Adelaide (completed 1955) pipelines, both part of the larger Snowy Mountains scheme.[29]

There are two Los Angeles, California aqueducts, the Owens Valley aqueduct (completed 1913) and the Second Los Angeles Aqueduct (completed 1970) which also include extensive use of pipelines.

The Great Manmade River of Libya supplies 3,680,000 cubic metres (4,810,000 cu yd) of water each day to Tripoli, Benghazi, Sirte, and several other cities in Libya. The pipeline is over 2,800 kilometres (1,700 mi) long, and is connected to wells tapping an aquifer over 500 metres (1,600 ft) underground.[30]

For beer

Bars in the Veltins-Arena, a major football ground in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, are interconnected by a 5 km long beer pipeline. It is the favored method for distributing beer in such large stadiums, because the bars have to overcome big differences between demands during various stages of a match; this allows them to be supplied by a central tank.

In Randers city in Denmark, the so-called Thor beer pipeline still exists. Originally copper pipes ran directly from the brewery and, when in the 90s the brewery moved out of the city, Thor beer replaced the centre of a star with a giant tank.

For other uses

The village of Hallstatt in Austria, which is known for its long history of salt mining, claims to contain "the oldest industrial pipeline in the world", dating back to 1595.[31] It was constructed from 13,000 hollowed-out tree trunks to transport salt water for 40 kilometers from Hallstatt to Ebensee.[32]

Types by transport function

In general, pipelines can be classified in three categories depending on purpose:

Gathering pipelines
Group of smaller interconnected pipelines forming complex networks with the purpose of bringing crude oil or natural gas from several nearby wells to a treatment plant or processing facility. In this group, pipelines are usually short- a couple of hundred metres- and with small diameters. Also sub-sea pipelines for collecting product from deep water production platforms are considered gathering systems.
Transportation pipelines
Mainly long pipes with large diameters, moving products (oil, gas, refined products) between cities, countries and even continents. These transportation networks include several compressor stations in gas lines or pump stations for crude and multiproducts pipelines.
Distribution pipelines
Composed of several interconnected pipelines with small diameters, used to take the products to the final consumer. Feeder lines to distribute gas to homes and businesses downstream. Pipelines at terminals for distributing products to tanks and storage facilities are included in this group.


When a pipeline is built, the construction project not only covers the civil work to lay the pipeline and build the pump/compressor stations, it also has to cover all the work related to the installation of the field devices that will support remote operation.

The pipeline is routed along what is known as a "right of way". Pipelines are generally developed and built using the following stages:

  1. Open season to determine market interest: Potential customers are given the chance to sign up for part of the new pipeline's capacity rights. This stage lasts up to two months. If interest in the pipeline is limited, the project does not move forward.[33]
  2. Route (right of way) selection
  3. Pipeline design: The pipeline project may take a number of forms, including the construction of a new pipeline, conversion of existing pipeline from one fuel type to another, or improvements to facilities on a current pipeline route. The design process may take up to six months.[33]
  4. Obtaining approval: Once the design is finalized and the first pipeline customers have purchased their share of capacity, the project must be approved by the relevant regulatory agencies. The process can last up to 18 months, particularly for pipelines that span multiple states.[33]
  5. Surveying the route
  6. Clearing the route
  7. Trenching - Main Route and Crossings (roads, rail, other pipes, etc.)
  8. Installing the pipe
  9. Installing valves, intersections, etc.
  10. Covering the pipe and trench
  11. Testing: Once construction is completed, the new pipeline is subjected to tests to ensure its structural integrity. These may include hydrostatic testing and line packing.[33]

Russia has "Pipeline Troops" as part of the Rear Services, who are trained to build and repair pipelines. Russia is the only country to have Pipeline Troops.[34]


Field devices are instrumentation, data gathering units and communication systems. The field Instrumentation includes flow, pressure and temperature gauges/transmitters, and other devices to measure the relevant data required. These instruments are installed along the pipeline on some specific locations, such as injection or delivery stations, pump stations (liquid pipelines) or compressor stations (gas pipelines), and block valve stations.

The information measured by these field instruments is then gathered in local Remote Terminal Units (RTU) that transfer the field data to a central location in real time using communication systems, such as satellite channels, microwave links, or cellular phone connections.

Pipelines are controlled and operated remotely, from what is usually known as The Main Control Room. In this center, all the data related to field measurement is consolidated in one central database. The data is received from multiple RTUs along the pipeline. It is common to find RTUs installed at every station along the pipeline.

The SCADA system at the Main Control Room receives all the field data and presents it to the pipeline operator through a set of screens or Human Machine Interface, showing the operational conditions of the pipeline. The operator can monitor the hydraulic conditions of the line, as well as send operational commands (open/close valves, turn on/off compressors or pumps, change setpoints, etc.) through the SCADA system to the field.

To optimize and secure the operation of these assets, some pipeline companies are using what is called Advanced Pipeline Applications, which are software tools installed on top of the SCADA system, that provide extended functionality to perform leak detection, leak location, batch tracking (liquid lines), pig tracking, composition tracking, predictive modeling, look ahead modeling, operator training and more.



Pipeline networks are composed of several pieces of equipment that operate together to move products from location to location. The main elements of a pipeline system are:

Initial injection station
Known also as supply or inlet station, is the beginning of the system, where the product is injected into the line. Storage facilities, pumps or compressors are usually located at these locations.
Compressor/pump stations
Pumps for liquid pipelines and Compressors for gas pipelines, are located along the line to move the product through the pipeline. The location of these stations is defined by the topography of the terrain, the type of product being transported, or operational conditions of the network.
Partial delivery station
Known also as intermediate stations, these facilities allow the pipeline operator to deliver part of the product being transported.
Block valve station
These are the first line of protection for pipelines. With these valves the operator can isolate any segment of the line for maintenance work or isolate a rupture or leak. Block valve stations are usually located every 20 to 30 miles (48 km), depending on the type of pipeline. Even though it is not a design rule, it is a very usual practice in liquid pipelines. The location of these stations depends exclusively on the nature of the product being transported, the trajectory of the pipeline and/or the operational conditions of the line.
Regulator station
This is a special type of valve station, where the operator can release some of the pressure from the line. Regulators are usually located at the downhill side of a peak.
Final delivery station
Known also as outlet stations or terminals, this is where the product will be distributed to the consumer. It could be a tank terminal for liquid pipelines or a connection to a distribution network for gas pipelines.

Leak detection systems

Since oil and gas pipelines are an important asset of the economic development of almost any country, it has been required either by government regulations or internal policies to ensure the safety of the assets, and the population and environment where these pipelines run.

Pipeline companies face government regulation, environmental constraints and social situations. Government regulations may define minimum staff to run the operation, operator training requirements; pipeline facilities, technology and applications required to ensure operational safety. For example, in the State of Washington it is mandatory for pipeline operators to be able to detect and locate leaks of 8 percent of maximum flow within fifteen minutes or less. Social factors also affect the operation of pipelines. In third world countries, product theft is a problem for pipeline companies. It is common to find unauthorized extractions in the middle of the pipeline. In this case, the detection levels should be under two percent of maximum flow, with a high expectation for location accuracy.

Various technologies and strategies have been implemented for monitoring pipelines, from physically walking the lines to satellite surveillance. The most common technology to protect pipelines from occasional leaks is Computational Pipeline Monitoring or CPM. CPM takes information from the field related to pressures, flows, and temperatures to estimate the hydraulic behavior of the product being transported. Once the estimation is completed, the results are compared to other field references to detect the presence of an anomaly or unexpected situation, which may be related to a leak.

The American Petroleum Institute has published several articles related to the performance of CPM in liquids pipelines, the API Publications are:

  • API 1130 – Computational pipeline monitoring for liquids pipelines
  • API 1155 – Evaluation methodology for software based leak detection systems
  • API 1149 – Pipeline variable uncertainties & their effects on leak detectability


As a rule pipelines for all uses are laid in most cases underground. However in some cases it is necessary to cross a valley or a river on a pipeline bridge. Pipelines for centralized heating systems are often laid on the ground or overhead. Pipelines for petroleum running through permafrost areas as Trans-Alaska-Pipeline are often run overhead in order to avoid melting the frozen ground by hot petroleum which would result in sinking the pipeline in the ground.


Maintenance of pipelines includes checking Cathodic protection levels for the proper range, surveillance for construction, erosion, or leaks by foot, land vehicle, boat, or air, and running cleaning pigs, when there is anything carried in the pipeline that is corrosive.

US pipeline maintenance rules are covered in Code of Federal Regulations(CFR) sections, 49 CFR 192 for natural gas pipelines, and 49 CFR 195 for petroleum liquid pipelines.


In the US, onshore and offshore pipelines used to transport oil and gas are regulated by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Certain offshore pipelines used to produce oil and gas are regulated by the Minerals Management Service (MMS). In Canada, pipelines are regulated by either the provincial regulators or, if they cross provincial boundaries or the Canada/US border, by the National Energy Board (NEB). Government regulations in Canada and the United States require that buried fuel pipelines must be protected from corrosion. Often, the most economical method of corrosion control is by use of pipeline coating in conjunction with cathodic protection and technology to monitor the pipeline. Above ground, cathodic protection is not an option. The coating is the only external protection.

Pipelines and geopolitics

Pipelines for major energy resources (petroleum and natural gas) are not merely an element of trade. They connect to issues of geopolitics and international security as well, and the construction, placement, and control of oil and gas pipelines often figure prominently in state interests and actions. A notable example of pipeline politics occurred at the beginning of the year 2009, wherein a dispute between Russia and Ukraine ostensibly over pricing led to a major political crisis. Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine after talks between it and the Ukrainian government fell through. In addition to cutting off supplies to Ukraine, Russian gas flowing through Ukraine—which included nearly all supplies to Southeastern Europe and some supplies to Central and Western Europe—was cut off, creating a major crisis in several countries heavily dependent on Russian gas as fuel. Russia was accused of using the dispute as leverage in its attempt to keep other powers, and particularly the European Union, from interfering in its "near abroad".

Oil and gas pipelines also figure prominently in the politics of Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Hazard identification

Because the solvent fraction of dilbit typically comprises volatile aromatics like naptha and benzene, reasonably rapid carrier vapourisation can be expected to follow an above-ground spill—ostensibly enabling timely intervention by leaving only a viscous residue that is slow to migrate. Effective protocols to minimize exposure to petrochemical vapours are well-established, and oil spilled from the pipeline would be unlikely to reach the aquifer unless incomplete remediation were followed by the introduction of another carrier (e.g., a series of torrential downpours).

The Keystone XL extension is designed to be buried under four feet of soil, which will hinder post-spill vapourisation of the carrier fraction. Diluent and bitumen will migrate at different rates, depending on the temperature- and composition of the surrounding soils, but separation will take place more slowly as the aromatics diffuse through sediment rather than through air.

The introduction of benzene and other volatile organic compounds (collectively BTEX) to the subterranean environment compounds the threat posed by a pipeline leak. Particularly if followed by rain, a pipeline breach would result in BTEX dissolution and equilibration of benzene in water, followed by percolation of the admixture into the aquifer. Benzene can cause many health problems and is carcinogenic with EPA Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) set at 5 μg/L for potable water.[35] Although it is not well studied, single benzene exposure events have been linked to acute carcinogenesis.[36] Additionally, the exposure of livestock, mainly cattle, to benzene has been shown to cause many health issues, such as neurotoxicity, fetal damage and fatal poisoning.[37]

The entire surface of an above-ground pipeline can be directly examined for material breach. Pooled petroleum is unambiguous, readily spotted, and indicates the location of required repairs. Because the effectiveness of remote inspection is limited by the cost of monitoring equipment, gaps between sensors, and data that requires interpretation, leaks in buried pipe are more likely to go undetected

Pipeline developers do not always prioritise effective surveillance against leaks. Buried pipes draw fewer complaints. They are insulated from extremes in ambient temperature, they are shielded from ultraviolet rays, and they are less exposed to photodegradation. Buried pipes are isolated from airborne debris, electrical storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, hail, and acid rain. They are protected from nesting birds, rutting mammals, and wayward buckshot. Buried pipe is less vulnerable to accident damage (e.g., automobile collisions) and less accessible to vandals, saboteurs, and terrorists.


Previous work[38] has shown that a 'worst-case exposure scenario' can be limited to a specific set of conditions. Based on the advanced detection methods and pipeline shut-off SOP developed by TransCanada, the risk of a substantive or large release over a short period of time contaminating groundwater with benzene is unlikely.[39] Detection, shutoff, and remediation procedures would limit the dissolution and transport of benzene. Therefore the exposure of benzene would be limited to leaks that are below the limit of detection and go unnoticed for extended periods of time.[38] Leak detection is monitored through a SCADA system that assesses pressure and volume flow every 5 seconds. A pinhole leak that releases small quantities that cannot be detected by the SCADA system (<1.5% flow) could accumulate into a substantive spill.[39] Detection of pinhole leaks would come from a visual or olfactory inspection, aerial surveying, or mass-balance inconsistencies.[39] It is assumed that pinhole leaks are discovered within the 14 day inspection interval, however snow cover and location (e.g. remote, deep) could delay detection. Benzene typically makes up 0.1 – 1.0% of oil and will have varying degrees of volatility and dissolution based on environmental factors.

Even with pipeline leak volumes within SCADA detection limits, sometimes pipeline leaks are misinterpreted by pipeline operators to be pump malfunctions, or other problems. The Enbridge Line 6B crude oil pipeline failure in Marshall, Michigan on July 25, 2010 was thought by operators in Edmonton to be from column separation of the dilbit in that pipeline. The leak in wetlands along the Kalamazoo River was only confirmed 17 hours after it happened by a local gas company employee in Michigan.

File:Benzene Transport to Groundwater from Oil Spill.pdf

Spill frequency-volume

Although the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has standard baseline incident frequencies to estimate the number of spills, TransCanada altered these assumptions based on improved pipeline design, operation, and safety.[39] Whether these adjustments are justified is debatable as these assumptions resulted in a nearly 10-fold decrease in spill estimates.[38] Given that the pipeline crosses 247 miles of the Ogallala Aquifer,[40] or 14.5% of the entire pipeline length, and the 50-year life of the entire pipeline is expected to have between 11 – 91 spills,[38] approximately 1.6 – 13.2 spills can be expected to occur over the aquifer. An estimate of 13.2 spills over the aquifer, each lasting 14 days, results in 184 days of potential exposure over the 50 year lifetime of the pipeline. In the reduced scope ‘worst case exposure scenario,’ the volume of a pinhole leak at 1.5% of max flow-rate for 14 days has been estimated at 189,000 barrels or 7.9 million gallons of oil.[38] According to PHMSA’s incident database,[41] only 0.5% of all spills in the last 10 years were >10,000 barrels.

Benzene fate and transport

Benzene is considered a light aromatic hydrocarbon with high solubility and high volatility. It is unclear how temperature and depth would impact the volatility of benzene, so assumptions have been made that benzene in oil (1% weight by volume) would not volatilize before equilibrating with water.[38] Using the octanol-water partition coefficient and a 100-year precipitation event for the area, a worst-case estimate of 75 mg/L of benzene is anticipated to flow toward the aquifer.[38] The actual movement of the plume through groundwater systems is not well described, although one estimate is that up to 4.9 billion gallons of water in the Ogallala Aquifer could become contaminated with benzene at concentrations above the MCL.[38] The Final Environmental Impact Statement from the State Department does not include a quantitative analysis because it assumed that most benzene will volatilize.[39]

Previous dilbit spill remediation difficulties

One of the major concerns about dilbit is the difficulty in cleaning it up.[42] Enbridge's Line 6B, a 30 inch crude oil pipeline, ruptured in Marshall, Michigan on July 25, 2010, mentioned above, spilled at least 843,000 gallons of dilbit.[43] After detection of the leak, booms and vacuum trucks were deployed. Heavy rains caused the river to overtop existing dams, and carried dilbit 30 miles downstream before the spill was contained. Remediation work collected over 1.1 million gallons of oil and almost 200,000 cubic yards of oil-contaminated sediment and debris from the Kalamazoo River system. However, oil was still being found in affected waters in October 2012.[44]



Pipelines conveying flammable or explosive material, such as natural gas or oil, pose special safety concerns.

For a more complete list see List of pipeline accidents
  • June 16, 1976 - A gasoline pipeline was ruptured by a road construction crew in Los Angeles, California. Gasoline sprayed across the area, and soon ignited, killing 9, and injuring at least 14 others. Confusion over the depth of the pipeline in the construction area seemed to be a factor in the accident.[45]
  • 1982 - One of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history occurred along the Trans-Siberian Pipeline in the former Soviet Union. It has been alleged that the explosion was the result of CIA sabotage of the Trans-Siberian Pipeline.
  • June 4, 1989 - sparks from two passing trains detonated gas leaking from an LPG pipeline near Ufa, Russia. Up to 645 people were reported killed.
  • October 17, 1998 - 1998 Jesse pipeline explosion at Jesse in the Niger Delta in Nigeria, a petroleum pipeline exploded killing about 1,200 villagers, some of whom were scavenging gasoline - the worst of several similar incidents in this country.
  • June 10, 1999 - a pipeline rupture in a Bellingham, Washington park led to the release of 277,200 gallons of gasoline. The gasoline was ignited, causing an explosion that killed two children and one adult. Misoperation of the pipeline and a previously damaged section of the pipe that was not detected before were identified as causing the failure.[46]
  • August 19, 2000 - natural gas pipeline rupture and fire near Carlsbad, New Mexico; this explosion and fire killed 12 members of an extended family. The cause was due to severe internal corrosion of the pipeline.[47]
  • July 30, 2004 - a major (Expatica)
  • May 12, 2006 - an oil pipeline ruptured outside Lagos, Nigeria. Up to 200 people may have been killed. See Nigeria oil blast.
  • November 1, 2007 - a propane pipeline exploded near Carmichael, Mississippi, about 30 miles (48 km) south of Meridian, Mississippi. Two people were killed instantly and an additional four were injured. Several homes were destroyed and sixty families were displaced. The pipeline is owned by Enterprise Products Partners LP, and runs from Mont Belvieu, Texas, to Apex, North Carolina. Inability to find flaws in pre-1971 ERW seam welded pipe flaws was a contributing factor to the accident.[48][49]
  • September 9, 2010 - a 30 inch diameter high pressure natural gas pipeline owned by Pacific Gas & Electric exploded in flames in the Crestmoor residential neighborhood 2 mi (3.2 km) west of San Francisco International Airport, killing 8, injuring 58, and destroying 38 homes. Poor quality control of the pipe used & of the construction were cited as factors in the accident.[50]

As targets

Pipelines can be the target of vandalism, sabotage, or even terrorist attacks. In war, pipelines are often the target of military attacks, as destruction of pipelines can seriously disrupt enemy logistics.

Marine pipelines

Main article: Submarine pipeline

In places, a pipeline may have to cross water expanses, such as small seas, straights and rivers.[51] In many instances, they lie entirely on a seabed. These pipelines are referred to as marine pipelines (also: submarine or offshore). They are used primarily to carry oil or gas, but transportation of water is also important.[51] In offshore projects, a distinction is made between a flowline and a pipeline.[52][51][53] The former is an intrafield pipeline, in the sense that it is used to connect subsea wellheads, manifolds and the platform within a particular development field. The latter, sometimes referred to as an export pipeline, is used to bring the resource to shore.[52] The construction and maintenance of marine pipelines imply logistical challenges that are different from those onland, mainly because of wave and current dynamics, along with other geohazards.

See also


External links

  • National Bureau of Asian Research, 2010)
  • The Dolphin Project: The Development of a Gulf Gas Initiative, by Justin Dargin, Oxford Institute for Energy Studies Jan 2008 Working Paper NG #22
  • UK - Linewatch - a joint awareness initiative between 14 oil and gas pipeline operators
  • November 1951 article about first undersea gas pipeline constructed in the US and the problems encountered
  • April 1937
  • Construction and delivery of compressor stations for a gas pipeline in the Soviet Union by AEG (company video from the 1970s with subtitles)
  • Government Accountability Office
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