What’s being ‘uncovered’ by pipeline retirement research

This is the final post in CEPA’s pipeline retirement blog series. If you want to learn about how and why pipelines are retired, check out these posts: Pipeline retirement 101 and Busting 5 pipeline retirement myths. 

A retired pipeline has reached the end of its operating life, but what doesn’t end is a pipeline company’s commitment to safety.

Protecting the environment and the public are already part of the pipeline retirement process. But the industry wants to continuously improve. That’s why it’s helping to facilitate important research through the Pipeline Abandonment Research Program.

“The overall focus (of the research) is to close gaps in knowledge related to the abandoning or retirement of pipeline assets and to continue to improve industry practices,” explained Dave Hoffman, senior manager of research, development and innovation at Enbridge Pipelines Inc. and a member of the research program’s steering committee.

Pipeline retirement research: Moving knowledge forward

Who’s in charge of the research?

CEPA is working with Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada (PTAC) to facilitate the Pipeline Abandonment Research Program.

The program’s steering committee is in charge of guiding and directing the research and is made up of representatives from CEPA and its member companies and from the National Energy Board (NEB) and its Land Matters Group.

What’s being researched?

If a pipeline is retired or “abandoned” (the NEB term), the pipe itself will either be safely retired in place (after being cleaned and purged) or taken out of the ground.

Current pipeline retirement practices are safe. However, the research being undertaken is aimed at closing knowledge gaps that have been identified.

Here are a couple of the research projects that are either in their final stages or currently underway:

  • Understanding the decomposition of pipe coating material in abandoned pipelines
  • Frost heave effects on pipeline exposure rates
  • Understanding the mechanisms for corrosion and their effects on abandoned pipelines

“The work for 2015 is focused on understanding methods and processes used to clean pipelines prior to abandonment and also attempting to quantify how ‘clean’ is ‘clean’ (in order) to provide additional guidance to industry, as well as to look at the best technologies and methods available to support this,” said Hoffman.

Research results, Hoffman explained, will be made public and shared throughout the pipeline industry and oil and gas industry, as well as with regulators, government agencies and other stakeholders.

Why does pipeline retirement research matter?

“Similar to managing the technical and environmental aspects related to the design, construction, operation and maintenance of a pipeline system, proper management related to the abandonment of the assets is equally as important to ensure protection of our environment and the public and to respect the rights of landowners,” explained Hoffman.

The industry’s wiliness to work collaboratively through this research program will help continuously improve pipeline retirement processes in Canada and possibly other countries.

Continuing to assess current practices and investigating and researching new and perhaps better methods is just good business practice,” Hoffman stated.

Learn more about pipeline retirement:

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 115,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2013, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.3 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.