Development of Shale Play Slows, but Other Pipeline Work Continues

by Luke Jones  on Monday, May. 27, 2013 12:00 am  

“When you look within the two big categories, there are interstate and intrastate transmission lines,” Lidiak said. “Basically, they are the superhighways of energy products, moving refined products from a refinery to a marketing area, or they move natural gas from the production area to a processing plant to a city; then the local gas utility takes over from there.”

Smaller lines feed into the interstate and intrastate pipes to connect from a wellhead to a central gathering point.

Oil routes are divided into gathering systems, which collect crude oil from wells; crude oil systems, which pump crudes from the gathering systems to refineries; and refined systems, which move products like gasoline and kerosene from refineries to distribution terminals and consumers.

Building the Pipes

According to PHMSA, the process of building a pipeline starts with choosing a route, working with governmental entities and purchasing or acquiring land. A great deal of engineering goes into working around rugged terrain features and other obstacles.

“Large changes can be an issue for managing the pipe,” Lidiak said. “It’s not insurmountable, but if pipes go through large changes in elevation, it has to be designed into the system. That will also change how many pump stations you need to have, or compressor stations for gas pipelines.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission then examines the project to ensure the route will have minimal impact on the environment and affected communities.

After FERC approves the route, the pipes are designed.

The vast majority of pipelines in the country are made of steel, Lidiak said.

Iron pipes were used to transport natural gas starting in the late 19th century. However, cast or wrought iron is vulnerable to leakage when the pipes are disturbed by changing temperature, water levels or digging. Iron can also degrade and become soft over time.

After several deadly accidents involving cast iron pipes, the National Transportation Safety Board in 1991 recommended that the Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration require pipeline operators to keep track of iron pipes and replace them before degradation occurs.

“There are virtually no large cast iron systems in operation,” Lidiak said. “It’s very unusual these days.”



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