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The battle against pipeline corrosion can sometimes seem like a never-ending fight. The Australasian Corrosion Association works with industry and academia to continually improve the technology available to pipeline owners and operators to help win the war against corrosion.Pipelines are integral to many industries. In the utility sector they form the gathering systems bringing resources to processing facilities and delivering product to homes and businesses.

Pipelines vary from simple steel tubes to state-of-the-art spiral-wound, flexible lines, with diameters ranging from 50 millimetres to two metres.

To meet increasing global demand, oil and gas infrastructure is expanding. Corrosion poses a threat to all facilities, and the economic impact of all types of corrosion – and its degradation of infrastructure, such as pipelines, oil rigs and towers – represents an annual cost of many millions of dollars to the industry.

Whilst non-ferrous materials such as fibreglass and polypropylene can be used in non-critical, low pressure applications, the overwhelming majority of petroleum pipelines are constructed from metal. Whether buried or on the surface, all metal pipelines are exposed to a range of physical, climatic and chemical environments that can cause corrosion.

Best practice in corrosion management

Working with academia and industry, the Australasian Corrosion Association (ACA) supports research into all aspects of corrosion in order to provide an extensive knowledge base of the latest technologies and best practices in corrosion management. Historically, metallic zinc and primers containing chromate have provided excellent corrosion protection. These materials have properties that allow coatings containing them to actively respond to a corrosive environment while maintaining a barrier to that environment.

Advances in coating technology can offer significant cost savings if developed and successfully demonstrated. Zinc, polyurethane, polyurea and powder coating technologies make them a superior alternative to epoxy resin technology for longer-term service life. Zinc gives a very basic cathodic protection effect as a thin coating, polyurethane is effective and aesthetically appealing, while powder coatings can meet environmental and regulatory challenges.

Ageing or damaged infrastructure presents many challenges to the oil and gas industry and regulators worldwide. There are thousands of kilometres of pipelines associated with the oil and gas wells and platforms operating in more than 50 countries around the world. These facilities vary in size, shape, and degree of complexity.

Much of this infrastructure was built in the 1950s and designed in accordance with lower standards than are currently prescribed. Some facilities are operating well beyond their intended service life and others have suffered damage as a result of storms or accidents or, because of the lack of active maintenance programs, have deteriorated to the extent that there is now doubt as to their continued structural integrity.

The path forward

Achieving the most effective corrosion control strategies is likely to require changes in industry management and government policies. All companies are striving to reduce maintenance budgets for their infrastructure while optimising performance, so new corrosion protection materials must be cost effective and non-hazardous. One of the latest advances in coating technology has been the development of protective coatings that can respond to damage and changes in the external environment and can be applied using conventional methods. New materials such as nano-structured materials and organic metals may be appropriate as the basis for developing damage-responsive coatings and structures.

Internal corrosion controls for gas pipelines include reducing the water content of gas and adding inhibitors to the fluid flow. In addition, removing solids from the stream, and the mechanical design of the layout, can also reduce internal wear. Corrosion caused by moisture in a gas stream can be controlled by decreasing the dew point of the gas to a temperature below the lowest operating temperature likely to be encountered in the pipeline.

One way to allow for corrosion is to make the pipe wall thicker to provide additional metal for corrosion loss. The corrosion allowance should anticipate the maximum metal loss over the life of the pipeline and ensure that sufficient wall thickness remains to enable the pipeline to operate safely. A corrosion allowance should not be a substitute for other corrosion protection measures, since actual corrosion rates in practice can be much higher than those used in the estimation of the corrosion allowance.

The oil and gas industry invests large sums of money in the design, laying and protection of pipelines. In comparison, far less attention is paid to the mounting and bracing structures that support and guide a pipeline.

Managing risk

An effective way to reduce corrosion risk is to minimise the contact point between the support and pipe so that no crevice is formed. Water cannot be trapped, so corrosion no longer occurs. With minimal contact, air can also circulate and evaporate moisture beneath pipes, and it’s far easier to inspect the contact area. If the material of the support is non-metallic, the pipe can be electrically isolated so there is no contact between dissimilar metals.

One of the most common support methods is to lay the pipe onto a standard structural element such as an I-beam or metal channel and secure it in place with a stabilising U-bolt. A similar method is to use a saddle clamp, where the pipe is clamped between two rolled plates, with one of the plates welded to a structural element. These two categories account for more than 95 per cent of support points on a typical structure.

One alternative is to weld a part of the pipe, which is usually free to move, directly to the support structure. This is a common approach for insulated piping systems. There are a number of other alternative pipe supports, such as flange bolt supports, various types of pipe hangers and other specialty-type supports.

Not surprisingly, it is the beam supports and the saddle clamps that cause the majority of problems. Visual inspection and other non-destructive testing is often difficult, and it is virtually impossible to paint or otherwise maintain some areas of the pipe at the support. Some of these support types may even develop bi-metallic contact. Despite both the pipe and support being steel, the metallurgical differences can still provide a small potential difference to create a corrosion cell.

The shape of a cylindrical pipe on a flat surface forms a crevice where moisture gathers and evaporation is restricted. The moisture softens the paint, which fails and exposes bare metal, which is then in constant contact with water. Once corrosion starts there can be rapid wall loss leading to eventual failure of the pipe.

The ACA is a not-for-profit, industry association, established in 1955 to service the needs of companies, organisations and individuals in Australia and New Zealand involved in the fight against corrosion by providing an expert knowledge base and conducting educational activities such as seminars and training courses across the region. The vision of the organisation is to reduce the impact of corrosion. For further information, please visit www.corrosion.com.au.

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Jessica Dickers is an experienced journalist, editor and content creator who is currently the Editor of Utility’s sister publication, Infrastructure. With a strong writing background, Jessica has experience in journalism, editing, print production, content marketing, event program creation, PR and editorial management. Her favourite part of her role as editor is collaborating with the sector to put together the best industry-leading content for the audience.

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