Do your beliefs about pipelines stand up to the science?

There are a lot of misconceptions about transmission pipelines out there. Some based on a lack of information, some based on myths and misinformation. We believe that conversations only begin when everyone has the full facts and that’s why we like to publish a ‘myth-busting’ post from time to time.

So, in the spirit of back to school week, we decided to test your pipeline knowledge. Let’s see whether your pipeline beliefs are based on myths or science:

Myth 1: Hydrostatic testing is the only way to test pipeline integrity

The science: Hydrostatic testing is one of many technologies used to test pipelines

Hydrostatic testing involves filling a pipeline with water and then pressurizing it to a level that exceeds normal operational levels. The testing is done in small 20-30 km sections to make it easier to find tiny defects or leaks. Check out this video to watch how it works:

But it’s far from the only technology that works. Some others include:

  • Phased array ultrasonic testing is a way of checking the integrity of pipeline welds in 3D. Check out this infographic to see how this technology has developed over the last 60 years.
  • Inline inspection tools called smart pigs check the pipeline from inside, looking for anything that might indicate a weakening or thinning of the steel.

These are just a few of the technologies that make it possible to detect even the tiniest leaks.

Cathodic protections is used to prevent corrosion in pipelinesMyth 2: All pipelines corrode

The science: Corrosion is preventable

If you’ve ever wondered how a metal ship stays afloat in water without rusting, think protective coatings. They’re similar to the coatings used on pipelines to keep them from corroding in wet soil. But that’s not the only way the industry protects against corrosion.

Cathodic protection is the process of using an electrical current to draw corrosion away from a pipeline to another piece of metal, called an anode. This piece of metal rusts instead of the pipeline. On top of that the industry uses scrapers, which are large wire brushes that rotate through the pipeline cleaning away deposits, and preventing product from building up and corroding the pipeline.

Myth 3: Diluted bitumen is more corrosive than other oil products

The science: Diluted bitumen (dilbit) is no more corrosive than regular crude oil

Pipeline companies have been transporting dilbit for 25 years with no increase in corrosion-related incidents. But that hasn’t stopped critics from doubting. Well, the research is out, and independent studies have busted the myth. Diluted bitumen is no more corrosive than conventional crude oil. The studies include:

The latest of these studies, the one by the NAS, concludes that “diluted bitumen has physical and chemical properties within the range of other crude oils and that no aspect of its transportation by pipeline would make it more likely than other crude oils to cause an accidental release”.

You can learn more about diluted bitumen in our dilbit information sheet (PDF)

Myth 4: No one is watching for pipeline leaks

The science: Technology helps us monitor pipelines 24/7

Watching for leaks is a full-time job. But, how can a pipeline be monitored when it’s underground, or travelling through the remotest part of the mountains? Thanks to Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) equipment, pipelines can be monitored from hundreds of kilometres away, 24/7. Here is some of the technology available to the trained technicians manning the control centres:

  • Sensors along every pipeline monitor the temperature, flow rate and pressure of the product. Any abnormalities are automatically flagged so that technicians can take action, including shutting down the pipeline if appropriate.
  • Video cameras along pipeline routes take more than footage. Hydrocarbon sensors enable them to detect even tiny leaks, and temperature sensors look for unexpected changes.
  • Alarms warn technicians whenever something unusual or unexpected could indicate an emergency.

Myth 5: Pipeline companies run pipelines at dangerously high pressure to reduce costs

The science: Each pipeline has a regulated maximum pressure

The allowable pressure depends on a pipeline’s design and construction, and what product it will be carrying. It’s illegal for the pipeline operator to exceed that maximum pressure, and many pipeline companies actually operate pipelines at below the regulated maximum.

Pipeline pressure is one of the factors that the control room technicians monitor and record, and they would consider a rise in pressure to be a possible cause for alarm.

For more pipeline myths busted, check out these previous posts about pipelines and the environment and pipeline retirement.

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 117,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2014, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Our members transport 97 per cent of Canada’s daily natural gas and onshore crude oil from producing regions to markets throughout North America.