How important are steel pipelines?
Steel pipelines carry the majority of the worlds energy resources from the natural reservoirs which are located up 4 kilometres below the earth's surface to the gathering centres and from there to the refineries, storage tanks and ships.
Steel pipelines carry it most of the way to the end user, either in the form of high pressure gas or petroleum products.
If a high pressure pipeline fails it causes an explosion which can send debris many hundreds of meters and should the product ignite it can cause a disaster on a national scale. Minor errors in corrosion control technology have caused such incidents overseas in recent years as the pipelines age.
There are many thousands of miles of steel pipelines buried in every country in the world and the public are largely unaware of their presence except for the occasional marker post where they cross roads.
How good is corrosion control?
This pipeline test post shows no signs of testing for years. It is within 40 feet of an infants school
and is surrounded by parents and children for much of the time.
The studs have not been cleaned as necessary for the meter to make contact.
It will be seen that some of these posts have brass studs through which the steel of the pipeline can be contacted, and this is part of the cathodic protection facility which stops the pipeline from corroding.
In the early days of buried pipelines the steel corroded very quickly where it was in contact with aggressive soil. The first attempt at cathodic protection resulted in a staggering improvement in the useful life of the pipeline to which it was applied, and it rapidly became a standard requirement in pipeline design.
It was found that an insulating coating improved the efficiency of the cathodic protection as it separated the electrolyte from the steel. Not only does this limit the chemical contact but it concentrates the cathodic protection current on the small areas where the coating is not perfect.
The basic concept has been defined by many scientists but a cathodic protection system is not composed of simple elements in the way that batteries are, because the electrolyte is the ground itself. This electrolyte is uncontrollable and has an almost infinite variety of qualities. The chemical composition and electrical conductivity can span a vast range, as can the temperatures and pressures to which the reaction is subjected.
However, cathodic protection is so effective that it has been acceptable to over-design systems and invent monitoring systems without paying too much attention to basic details. This worked for many years but then pipelines started to fail even when regarded as 'protected'.
Investigation and research revealed that there is a basic error in the measuring technique which was recommended to establish a criterion for the successful application of cathodic protection. Many scientific papers have been published and there is now no internationally accepted criteria, leaving pipeline operators to rely on an assortment of recommendations and codes of practice which have all failed at one time or other.
Detailed studies have been carried out but much technology is not put into practice at present, with the result that there is a high risk of pipeline failure which could be identified and remedied for a fraction of the cost of repair. Neglecting this issue will lead to loss of life, damage to property, massive pollution and interruption of the energy supply which feeds today's society. We are all beneficiaries of the energy industry but few are aware of the creeping menace to our assets which could be controlled by the application of recent technology.
Are we to wait for the inevitable pipeline failure before we utilise the technology which could have prevented it?
I am setting up a service to address this problem by undertaking the following activities.
3. Formal training courses.
4. Manufacture and supply of specialised devices, such as the siopotential cell and the Alexander Cell.
5. Condition monitoring surveys which include unique technology.
6. Computer analysis of corrosion control and cathodic protection data.
This course of action could improve the situation within six months and gradually bring our pipeline system to a safe standard.
Amazingly I am being actively blocked at every approach to the government, pipeline operators and regulatory authorities in the UK despite the opportunity to create jobs and export this technology world wide.
I can supply documentation to anyone who is worried about pipelines near their homes or places of work and leisure.
It could be that there is a lot of money to be made out of a pipeline failure?