<< Back

Oil and Gas Pipeline Maintenance and Repair – Behind the Scenes

MarcellusDrilling.com has found that it can now cost anywhere between $2.9 million to 13 million per mile to create a new pipeline within the northeastern part of the country.  The national average is about $7.65 million per mile.    Running a new oil and gas pipeline is a costly endeavor.

For this reason, the maintenance and repair of these pipelines are of vital importance to both the oil and natural gas companies that move the product as well as to the consumers who buy the product.  Efficient repair processes help to keep the environment safe from leaks and spills.  Proper maintenance and timely repairs help keep these pipelines safe and operational for decades after they’ve been constructed.

Why Oil and Gas Pipelines Require Maintenance and Repairs

According to Eniday, oil and gas pipelines are generally built to last 20 to 30 years.  This being said, many of the pipelines within the United States are currently approaching lifespans of 50 years old or more.  This is a testament to the power of maintenance and repair schedules.

These pipelines can span hundreds or even thousands of miles and they must withstand earthquakes, floods, landslides, and a whole host of other natural disasters that can occur along a pipeline’s corridor.  They also often have to withstand high pressures and the natural wear and tear that can occur within a fabricated pipe.  For example, older metal pipelines can fall victim to rust and welds can degrade over time.

Because of all of this, midstream companies tend to focus a lot of resources on monitoring, maintaining, and repairing their pipelines.  We’ll take a look at some of how oil and gas pipelines are monitored, maintained, and repaired in the rest of this article.

Monitoring Oil and Gas Pipelines and Their ROWS

Maintaining and repairing oil and gas pipelines is now easier than it has ever been before.  The main reason for this is that it has become much easier to monitor these pipelines.  Proper monitoring of a pipeline can help companies spot maintenance issues before they become a problem.  An example of this could be using UAVs to spot dangerous vegetation growth along a ROW.  This vegetation could be spotted and taken care of before the vegetation begins to impact the pipeline.

Monitoring also helps pipeline companies make small repairs before they turn into much larger repairs.  For example, a small leak could be spotted using a leak detection system that responds to small seeps.  Identifying the leak at this stage allows repair crews to make repairs to the pipeline before a large leak or rupture occurs.

Types of Oil and Gas Pipeline Maintenance

Two main types of maintenance measures can be taken on oil and gas pipelines.  These two types are proactive maintenance types and risk-based maintenance types.

Proactive Maintenance

Proactive maintenance measures are activities that are taken to avoid pipeline degradation and machine failures.  This type of maintenance uses a planned maintenance strategy that fixes issues before they ever get the chance to create a problem.

Proactive maintenance might include:

  • Vegetation Control
  • Integrity Digs
  • The Use of Smart Pigs

Vegetation Control

Vegetation control is an important part of maintaining a pipeline’s ROW.  Simple steps like keeping vegetation low help to ensure that emergency maintenance can be done quickly and easily.  Typically a pipeline ROW will have a vegetation control plan that consists of mowing the area regularly.

On top of this, landscapers might have a plan to prune tree branches surrounding the ROW and the ROW’s access points.  Large fallen branches could obstruct crews from accessing the pipeline and overgrown trees could block UAVs from being able to successfully monitor an area for other maintenance issues.

Integrity Digs

An integrity dig is an act of digging up specific areas of the pipeline to check the pipe’s integrity.  This is typically done in areas where the pipes are most likely to have issues, such as areas that have been questioned during inline inspections or in areas of high stress. A large pipeline network might do thousands of these digs each year.

Integrity digs usually consist of a few steps.  The first step is to determine where the digs will take place.  Inline inspection technology can help with this process.  Once this is done, an excavation crew can be brought in to dig up the pipe.  The pipe will then be cleaned and visually inspected.  If any issues are found, they’ll be rectified before the pipe is then retested and buried once more.

Smart Pigging

Smart pigs are inspection devices that run inside of the pipeline.  They are especially useful to pipeline companies as they can inspect a pipeline without the need to dig up the pipe or shut down operations.  These devices use an array of sensors and a computer to collect data on the pipeline.

A smart pig’s sensors can detect gouges, dents, corrosion, and even wall loss.  It can also determine the exact location of these defects via an internal GPS monitoring system.  This allows inspectors to know exactly where these issues are and what will need to be done to correct them.

Risk-Based Maintenance

Risk-based maintenance measures evaluate the potential probability of an issue occurring and help maintenance crews to identify which maintenance measures should be taken.  This type of maintenance often relies heavily on information and technology.

Risk-based maintenance might include:

  • Fortifying Slopes
  • Protecting At-risk Habitats
  • Eliminating ROW Encroachment

Landslides pose a significant risk to the safety of a pipeline as well as to the areas that surround it.  Because of this, pipeline companies often use UAVs, satellite imagery, and advanced software to help them actively monitor the slopes that surround the pipeline.  This allows them to fortify weakened slopes before they become landslips.

At-risk habitat areas may also need additional maintenance.  Oftentimes, pipeline companies work with local environmental agencies to help safeguard these habitats.  For example, the state’s department of environmental protection might find that stormwater runoff is creating sedimentation in a nearby stream.  In this case, the pipeline company might take additional erosion control measures to help protect this stream.

ROW encroachment can also be an issue for many pipelines.  For example, a nearby landowner may decide to build a permanent structure along an access corridor.  Part of the maintenance plan for the ROW might be to monitor these areas so that they can have these buildings taken down before the access corridor needs to be used.

Types of Oil and Gas Pipeline Repairs

Properly maintained oil and gas pipelines will rarely need repairs.  However, this doesn’t mean repairs will never need to be done.  Sometimes pipes fall victim to corrosion, fractures, or even landslides.

There are many ways to repair damaged or leaking pipes.  They can do this by replacing cylinders, grinding, reinforcing sleeves, and repairing welds.  They can even repair damaged piping without shutting down the entire operation.

How Is Maintenance Performed Without Shutting Down Product Flow

One way to repair a damaged pipe without shutting down the pipeline is by using a method known as hot tapping.  Hot tapping starts with the installation of valves on either side of the damaged pipe.  Once the valves are in place an additional pipe can be added above the damaged pipeline.  This pipe will bridge the area between the newly installed valves.

After this is complete, gas flow can be blocked off within the damaged pipe.  The product will still be able to flow through the pipeline using the newly installed, but temporary bridge pipe.  At this point, the damaged piping can be removed and a new pipe can be installed and inspected.  Once this new pipe is ready for operation, the gas can be stopped from flowing through the bridge pipe and this pipe can then be removed.

Why Preventative Maintenance Is So Important for Oil and Gas Pipelines

Preventative maintenance can help prevent leaks, landslides, and even floods.  This helps to protect the pipeline, the people living near the pipeline, the environment, and the customers who rely on the gas and oil that the pipelines provide.

Regular maintenance also helps reduce the time, effort, and money needed to make repairs.  For instance, it is much easier to reinforce a slope before it turns into a landslide rather than after.  Wait until the slope completely degrades and you may find that you have to repair the pipeline and completely replace the slope.

In Summary

Oil and gas pipeline maintenance and repairs can dramatically increase the lifespan of a pipeline while keeping the product safely moving to its final destination.  The industry, as well as the agencies that regulate the industry, all recognize this.  And pipeline maintenance and repair procedures get better with each passing year.

Not only is Hanging H an industry leader in oil and gas pipeline construction.  We also have a successful integrity maintenance and repair program.  This benefits our clients by reducing their overall costs and maintaining a positive public name.  We are happy to provide this quality service to our clients and to the public in general.