March 2016

Columns

Editorial Comment: Corrosion prevention is a necessary cost

Corrosion is a major maintenance and reliability concern because it has the potential to impact not only plant operations and costs, but also the environment and worker health and safety.

Blume, Adrienne, Hydrocarbon Processing Staff

Corrosion is a major maintenance and reliability concern because it has the potential to impact not only plant operations and costs, but also the environment and worker health and safety. It starts as a small problem that can quickly turn into several larger ones. Equipment failures, leaks, plant and unit shutdowns, environmental and product contamination, and worker accidents are a few examples of bigger problems that can occur as a result of corrosion.

Given the wide and far-reaching scope of these issues, it comes as no surprise that failure to prevent or mitigate corrosion in critical areas translates into corresponding high costs.

Recent incidents emphasize risk

Two high-profile corrosion-related incidents have made headlines in recent months in the US. In late January, a natural gas storage facility near Los Angeles, California was discovered to have released over 150 million tons of methane into the atmosphere since late October 2015. The cement casing of the underground portion of the facility was discovered to be significantly corroded, amid other operational, safety and equipment issues. The incident caused health and relocation problems for thousands of residents. It also required the drilling of a relief well to mitigate the leak.

Outside of oil and gas, a public health emergency occurred in Flint, Michigan, when lead-tainted water filtered into the city’s drinking water supply. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) decided not to require corrosion control treatment for Flint’s switchover from the Detroit water system to the Flint River in 2014. This caused iron- and lead-lined service pipelines to corrode and leach unsafe levels of lead into Flint’s drinking water, as discovered in August 2015.

The high costs of corrosion

According to research by inspecting and consulting company G2MT Laboratories, corrosion will cost the US economy more than $1.1 trillion in 2016. This estimate, based on data provided by NACE International, includes direct (operator/owner) costs of corrosion, as well as indirect (non-operator/owner) costs. Design, manufacturing, construction and management costs are included for operators, while non-operator costs may encompass penalties, litigation, environmental cleanup, medical treatment and services suspension. Indirect costs may become direct costs as operators assume responsibility for corrosion-related incidents, when applicable.

Among direct costs, money spent on corrosion-prevention measures is generally considered to be money well spent. Such measures include, but are not limited to, the use of specialty coatings, sealants, inhibitors and other protection products; proper materials selection; and regular maintenance, inspection, repair and replacement of corroded equipment and corrosion-prone areas.

In the case of the gas storage facility in California, safety and operational risks by the operator combined with undetected corrosion to allow an extended methane release. This release, in turn, translated into mounting public health care, industrial and litigation costs for the company and the state, as well as damaged public perception for the operator. In Flint, the MDEQ’s decision to omit corrosion-prevention measures was made in an effort to cut costs. However, this decision ultimately resulted in much higher public health, environmental and repair costs than if corrosion-prevention measures had been installed initially.

Both incidents show that prevention and mitigation are the most important costs related to corrosion, as well as the primary tools for addressing it. If applied properly, corrosion-prevention and corrosion-mitigation measures will reduce most other direct and indirect costs associated with corrosion. HP

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