Upgrading Aging Pipeline Infrastructure

Having A Vested Interest in Natural Gas Leak Detection
November 20, 2013
The Future of Natural Gas Pipeline Construction
December 18, 2013

Upgrading Aging Pipeline Infrastructure


As we’ve discussed over previous posts, pipeline networks come with a great deal of safety ramifications. We’ve discussed a variety of safety issues; ie. what goes into pipeline inspection as well the importance of internal communication to prevent accidents.

Today, we’re going to talk about upgrading the aging pipeline infrastructure.

When pipelines were constructed centuries ago, they were buried far from population centers for safety reasons. If a water main ruptures, the pressure drops immediately and the problem can be fixed. When a pressurized gas pipeline ruptures it takes hours or days for the pressure inside the pipe to equalize with the outside air. By keeping the pipes away, everyone is safer.

In recent decades, as urban sprawl has continued to expand, many people are now living over pipelines. These networks need to be moved further out and modified accordingly.

Further, welds can become weakened causing leaks which are bad for the environment and affect the price of natural gas due to the loss of material.

Benefits of Improving Pipeline Infrastructure

Pipeline construction companies, such as Snelson Co., take the lead in proactively identifying any potential environmental and safety health concerns.

For example, large-diameter pipeline is typically buried and is constructed far from metropolitan areas. Smaller-diameter pipeline is used to distribute the gas to the consumer because it is lower volume and lower pressure, reducing the safety risks.

Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council suggests government and utilities need to work together to ensure the continued safety of the natural gas pipeline infrastructure.

What needs to be done:

  • Upgrade standards of current pipeline
  • Rebuild new to safer standards

Because methane is a main component of natural gas, solving this issue will help address climate change since methane accounts for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. While natural gas is better for the environment in general, leaks in the pipeline can negate all those benefits if nothing is done.

As well, upgrading the natural gas pipeline infrastructure will improve the economy as it creates new jobs – as many as 125,000 according to Beinecke.

Precautions and Improvements to Pipeline Infrastructure

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is now requiring utility companies to install auto shutoff valves on natural gas pipelines. If any danger arises, the issue is contained.

Although the industry has steadily upgraded pipelines, added capacity, and replaced older systems nearing the end of life, the growth of natural gas as one of the most important, readily available energy sources has led to the need to add significant transportation infrastructure to what’s already existing.

Even with the steady growth in pipeline capacity, it is estimated the U.S. and Canada will need between roughly 30,000 to 60,000 additional miles of pipeline through 2030. This added capacity will not just move natural gas long distances between regions, but will also serve growing demands.
Forecasted increase in demands will have major effects on the infrastructure of the natural gas transportation system and industry members and associations working towards collaboration to ensure continued safety and upgrades.