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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.
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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.
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. After faltering in 2009, demand for pipeline expansion and updating increased the following year as energy production grew. By 2012, almost 32,000 miles of North American pipeline were being planned or under construction. Several major North American pipelines under development in 2012 included:
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.
Oil pipelines are made from steel or plastic tubes with inner diameter typically from 4 to 48 inches (100 to 1,200 mm). Most pipelines are typically buried at a depth of about 3 to 6 feet (0.91 to 1.8 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.
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 20 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.
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. 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 1,500 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.
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.
Pipelines have been used for transportation of ethanol in Brazil, and there are several ethanol pipeline projects in Brazil and the United States. 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. Insufficient volumes and cost-effectiveness are other considerations limiting construction of ethanol pipelines.
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. 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.
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, the technology is proven. Most hydrogen is produced at the place of demand with every 50 to 100 miles (160 km) an industrial production facility. The 1938 - Rhine-Ruhr 240 km hydrogen pipeline is still in operation. 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.
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. 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.
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 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.
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 were running 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.
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. It was constructed from 13,000 hollowed-out tree trunks to transport salt water for 40 kilometers from Hallstatt to Ebensee.
In general, pipelines can be classified in three categories depending on purpose:
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:
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:
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:
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 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".
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. Although it is not well studied, single benzene exposure events have been linked to acute carcinogenesis. 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.
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 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. 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. 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. Detection of pinhole leaks would come from a visual or olfactory inspection, aerial surveying, or mass-balance inconsistencies. 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.
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. Whether these adjustments are justified is debatable as these assumptions resulted in a nearly 10-fold decrease in spill estimates. Given that the pipeline crosses 247 miles of the Ogallala Aquifer, 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, 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. According to PHMSA’s incident database, only 0.5% of all spills in the last 10 years were >10,000 barrels.
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. 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. 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. The Final Environmental Impact Statement from the State Department does not include a quantitative analysis because it assumed that most benzene will volatilize.
One of the major concerns about dilbit is the difficulty in cleaning it up. 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. 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.
Pipelines conveying flammable or explosive material, such as natural gas or oil, pose special safety concerns.
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.
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