Environmental Health and Safety When It Comes Natural Gas Pipelines
Given the history of dangerous incidents involving gas pipelines, it’s important to place environmental health and safety as a priority. Read below for the crucial details.
According to the United States Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), between 1996 and 2015, there were up to 150 serious natural gas pipeline incidents per year, on average. Any serious incident is an indication that it led to a severe injury and in-patient hospitalization, as well as at least one fatality.
In 2000, one natural gas pipeline exploded in southeast New Mexico, taking the lives of 12 individuals. And in 2010, somewhere in a residential area in San Bruno, California, a natural gas pipeline suddenly ruptured and exploded, killing 8 people.
Many other related incidents have occurred over the years, causing severe injuries, in-patient hospitalizations, and several millions of dollars in damages. What can be done in order to significantly improve safety and reduce the frequency of these fatal accidents?
Do you know that millions of miles of pipelines transport the natural gas that powers most of the electric grid? In fact, there are more than 22,000 miles of natural gas liquids, crude oil, refined product, and petrochemical feedstocks pipelines that transport raw materials from production areas to petrochemical plants and refineries. This includes those that move finished products from these facilities and plants to end-users and consumers.
Pipelines are considered the safest way to easily transport energy products like natural gas, crude oil, as well as other fuels. And they are all regulated by the PHMSA with the assistance of their state partners.
According to several industry and government statistics, the common causes of pipeline hazards are unauthorized or improper digging near a pipeline. Other identified causes include mechanical failure, corrosion, and human errors.
Therefore, pipeline operators have to build, maintain, and monitor the security and integrity of their lines. And they invest heavily in employee training while working actively in order to prevent corrosion, mechanical failure, and human error.
In addition to this, pipeline operators work alongside expert excavators and homeowners in order to prevent unintentional and severe damage to pipelines due to excavation activity.
All pipelines are designed and built according to specific construction procedures and design required by the United States Department of Transportation regulations.
And as soon as the construction of the pipeline is complete, operators are put in charge to monitor those lines closely. They are also charged to follow all maintenance procedures highly consistent with the location, type, as well as product being transported. They are also expected to communicate – from time to time – with those working and living near the lines.
Here are some of the procedures that those operators usually implement:
- Patrol pipelines on foot and from the air in order to readily identify problems.
- Implement integrity management plans.
- Install cathodic protection or add inhibitors in order to prevent corrosion.
- Test samples of the products the pipelines transport.
- Communicate regularly with people that work and live near their pipelines as well as emergency responders within the community.
- Prepare and practice emergency response protocols.
- Monitor pipeline pressure and volume every day, 24/7.
- Carry out special training for workers who will be responsible for specific duties or tasks.
- Work with neighboring landowners in order to keep rights-of-way free of structures or plants that could significantly impact the safety of underground lines or impact the ability of the operators to monitor the pipelines.
The operators are also responsible for maintaining the structure of piping systems/pipelines as they are continually in use in order to ensure they keep working properly.
Why Compressor Valves Play an Important Role in Avoiding Natural Gas Leaks
Compressor valves are regulators or stopcocks utilized within a compressor in order to allow natural gas flow to and from the cylinder area. A compressor valve usually operates based on pressure difference: if the pressure below the valve is far greater than the pressure above in addition to the spring force, it opens.
The valves function seamlessly as spring-loaded non-return valves, which allow the gas to flow in one direction only.
There are nearly 3.25 million kilometers – i.e., 2 million miles – of pipelines peppered all over the world. This makes integrity and safety crucial to keeping people as well as the environment safe while ensuring pipeline operations continue to be as efficient as possible.
Pipeline downtime, potential environmental exposure, costly infrastructure repairs, as well as injury to personnel can lead to valve failure.
A wide range of valves – such as gate valves, check valves, ball valves, butterfly valves, etc. – are available today and can be used in several pipeline applications. Some valves are explicitly built for crude oil or natural gas pipelines. This means they are designed and must be tested according to the highly stringent international auditing agency guidelines. This includes ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and API (American Petroleum Institute) standards.
Compressing stations are used to compress natural gas to a pre-determined pressure along every natural gas pipeline. This allows the gas to continue traveling along the pipeline.
The gas readily enters the compressor station with low velocity and pressure via an inlet valve. The latter can be a trunnion mounted ball valve. When the natural gas passes the inlet valve, it is compressed by the compressor, thereby allowing the fluid media to move down the pipeline at much higher high flow rates.
Since the natural gas is compressed to a much higher pressure level, a significant vibration may occur. This vibration must be mitigated in order to protect the compression station and minimize valve wear.
The valves in compressor stations must be very reliable and capable of withstanding these vibrations. And they must have bubble-tight seals and be quick-turn.
Emergency Shutdown Valves
Emergency shutdown valves – otherwise known as shutdown valves – efficiently stop the flow of external gases or hazardous fluid in emergency, potentially dangerous situations.
These valves significantly contribute to pipeline safety and provide protection against harm to the equipment, to people, and the environment. Emergency shutdown valves are designed to have no leakage and must be seal bubble-tight.
The importance of pipeline safety and the role that compressor valves in avoiding natural gas leaks/environmental hazards/pipeline problems cannot be overemphasized.
Every fossil fuel extraction may be bad for the environment and also enhances our economic footprint. However, as long as operators can stick to the environmental health and safety guidelines, especially when it comes to natural gas pipelines, the environment will be safe and protected from any potential hazards.
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