New Series on Pipelines Falls Short On Facts
This week, local Austin news station KXAN released an investigative series titled “Pipeline Exposed,” which is focused on pipeline safety during the construction process. While the three-part series specifically discusses the Permian Highway Pipeline, a 430-mile natural gas line running from the Permian Basin to the Texas Gulf Coast, the segments include many inaccuracies about the nature and safety of pipeline coating.
Let’s set the record straight on pipeline coating:
Myth #1: Dates stamped on a pipeline are its expiration date.
Fact: This is incorrect.
Pipelines are not milk and do not expire, and as such, KXAN mischaracterized the meaning of the dates stamped on the pipeline. In its initial report, KXAN said a tip about dates written on pipelines led the reporters to begin their investigation, noting that in February some of the pipelines in a Junction, Texas, storage yard were stamped with dates as far back as March 2019.
But the date written on the pipeline is actually the date it was coated, not when it was stored. In fact, there are often delays between the time the pipeline is coated and when it is delivered to its final destination due to rigorous inspections performed after coating.
Inspectors thoroughly check the application of the coating to help minimize any risk of corrosion, including determining the potential lifespan of the coating to ensure it lasts as long as is safely possible.
Myth #2: Pipelines can experience UV damage in less than a year.
Fact: This claim has been refuted by multiple studies.
The reporter cites a National Association of Pipeline Coating Applicators bulletin which says, “Above ground storage of coated pipe in excess of six months without additional ultraviolet protection (UV) is not recommended.”
Multiple studies refute this claim because coating technology has vastly extended the lifespan of pipelines. For example, a 2019 TC Energy study found that the use of white paint protected and preserved the original thickness of the Fusion Bonded Epoxy coatings for over four years. A similar American Society of Mechanical Engineers study found a reduction in flexibility after 15 to 21 months, with no impact to the coating’s disbondment or adhesion – much longer than suggested in the KXAN report.
Myth #3: Exterior pipeline coatings can be easily damaged by heat, stress and other external factors.
Fact: This is not true.
Pipeline coatings are chemically bonded to the steel pipe and are extremely resistant to even the harshest of conditions.
According to the U.S Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Administration, the most popular pipe coating is Fusion Bonded Epoxy (FBE), which is resistant to high temperatures, capable of withstanding high stress and provides strong protection from corrosion.
The coating is applied by the pipe manufacturer at the time the pipe is first produced. The manufacturer will thoroughly clean and heat the steel pipe before applying the molten epoxy. The pipe, which is typically rotated lengthwise on its axis, is electrostatically charged and then “grounded” on a conveyor belt. This allows the epoxy to bond with steel pipe, resulting in a consistent, uniform coating on the pipe exterior.
To ensure, the coating does not become disbonded when the pipe is underground. Pipeline companies typically install cathodic protection (CP) systems. This system includes taking measurements of electrical potential along the pipeline. This allows companies to detect disbondment and repair the coating.
Myth #4: Texas Railroad Commission coating inspections are inadequate
Fact: The Texas Railroad Commission completed over 133,000 inspections in 2019 alone.
These inspections covered every aspect of the oil and natural gas industry in Texas, including operations and transport. According to the RRC, these inspections range from a variety of categories such as:
“Responding to incidents and complaints; conducting routine well inspections; and witnessing critical well operations including setting surface casing to protect groundwater, mechanical integrity tests and pluggings.”
The RRC has years of experience in oil and natural gas inspections, and even has a program titled the Pipeline Prevention Damage Program, aimed at promoting pipeline safety at all points in construction, and it is increasingly hiring and training more and more inspectors throughout the state.
Pipelines, such as the Permian Highway Pipeline, are some of the most highly regulated aspects of the oil and natural gas supply chain, both at the state and federal level. It is these regulations that ensure safety is top of mind as inspectors, constructors, and manufacturers build Texas’ energy future.