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European pipeline performance

02.01.2012  |  Thinnes, Billy,  Hydrocarbon Processing Staff, Houston, TX

Keywords: [CONCAWE] [pipeline] [oil] [natural gas] [Europe] [environment] [accident] [spillage] [corrosion]

European oil industry group CONCAWE has collected 40 years of spillage data on European cross-country oil pipelines with particular regard to spillages volume, cleanup and recovery, environmental consequences and causes of the incidents. The results have been published in annual reports since 1971. CONCAWE recently issued a report that covers the performance of these pipelines in 2010 and provides a full historical perspective since 1971. The performance over the whole 40-year period is analyzed in various ways, including gross and net spillage volumes. Spillage causes are grouped into five main categories: mechanical failure, operational, corrosion, natural hazard and third party.

Data for the CONCAWE annual survey comes from 77 companies and agencies operating oil pipelines in Europe. For 2010, data was received from 69 operators representing over 160 pipeline systems and a combined length of 34,645 km (Fig. 3), slightly less than the 2009 inventory. There were minor corrections to the reported data.


  Fig. 3. CONCAWE oil pipeline inventory and
  main service categories from 1971–2010. 

Nine operators did not report, but CONCAWE believes none of them suffered a spill in 2010. Nevertheless, they are not included in the statistics. The reported volume transported in 2010 was just under 800 million m3 of crude oil and refined products, about 10% less than in 2009. Four spillage incidents were reported in 2010, corresponding to 0.12 spillages per 1,000 km of line, well below both the 5-year average of 0.25 and the long-term running average of 0.52, which has been steadily decreasing over the years from a value of 1.2 in the mid-1970s (Fig. 4). There were no reported fires, fatalities or injuries connected with these spills. The gross spillage volume was low at 336 m3 (Fig. 5). This is 10 m3 per 1,000 km of pipeline compared to the long-term average of 78 m3 per 1,000 km of pipeline. CONCAWE reports that essentially all the spilled volume was recovered or safely disposed.


  Fig. 4. The 40-year trend for the annual
  number of spillages for all pipelines. 


  Fig. 5. The 40-year average gross spillage
  volume listed per event by cause. 

Two of the spills accounted for about 95% of the gross spill volume. Over the long term, less than 20% of the spillages are responsible for about 80% of the gross volume spilled (Fig. 6). Pipelines carrying hot oils such as fuel oil have in the past suffered from external corrosion due to design and construction problems. Most have been shut down or switched to cold service (Fig. 7), so that the great majority of pipelines now carry unheated petroleum products and crude oil. Only 159 km of hot oil pipelines are reported to be in service today. The last reported spill from a hot oil pipeline was in 2002.


  Fig. 6. Gross spillage volume from 1971–2010. 


  Fig. 7. Cold pipelines spillage by cause. 

Of the four reported incidents in 2010, two were related to mechanical failures, one was caused by external corrosion, and one was the result of third party activities. Over the long term, third party activities remain the main cause of spillage incidents, although the number of events has progressively decreased over the years. Mechanical failure is the second largest cause of spillage. After great progress during the first 20 years, the frequency of mechanical failures has been on an upward trend over the last decade.

In-line inspections were at a record high in 2010. A total of 89 sections covering a total of 12,300 km (45% more than in 2009) were inspected by at least one type of intelligence pipeline inspection gauge (pig). Most inspection programs involved the running of more than one type of pig in the same section, so that the total actual length inspected was less at 7,178 km (21% of the inventory).

Most pipeline systems were built in the 1960s and 1970s. Whereas, in 1971, 70% of the inventory was 10 years old or less, by 2010 only 4.4% was 10 years old or less and 50% was over 40 years old. However, this has not led to an increase in spillages. Overall, there is no evidence that the aging of the pipeline system implies a greater risk of spillage. The development and use of new techniques, such as internal inspection with intelligence pigs, hold out the prospect that pipelines can continue reliable operations for the foreseeable future. HP

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