Modern industrialized countries rely on a network of pipelines to deliver water, natural or propane gas, oil, and other resources across borders. These pipelines are considered important infrastructure. However, the inspection, maintenance, and protection of the millions of miles of interconnected lines continue to be a challenge that requires manpower and resources. But with modern technology, innovative equipment and tools have been introduced to improve pipe inspection and maintenance.
Standards and Regulations
When talking about pipelines, the infrastructure includes onshore and offshore networks. The system also includes exposed and buried pipelines. These pipelines, whether located in the United States or in other countries, require constant surveillance due to their vulnerability to certain external and internal conditions.
Management and operation of these pipelines depend on ownership, location, and jurisdiction. In the U.S., regulating these pipelines fall under the responsibility of the PHMSA, a U.S. Department of Transportation agency. The PHMSA develops and enforces regulations for the operations of pipelines within the country. In Canada, this responsibility falls under the National Energy Board or NEB.
Methods in Inspecting Pipelines
Pipeline inspectors and technicians use different methods to check the pipe system. Buried pipelines are inspected and cleaned using a device called a pig. This device is launched from a pig launcher, so it could travel through the length of the pipe section. The pig only stops once it reaches the catcher or receiver at the end of the section.
The use of technology improved pipeline inspection and maintenance. Industries now use pipe cameras to perform assessment and diagnosis of a certain section of the network. These visual inspection tools use a crawler with a camera to remotely observe the insides of the pipe system.
These industries also use illuminated borescopes and video integrated scopes to perfectly capture a digital still or video image of the pipes. These scopes can be flexibly maneuvered through the system and can be customized for different magnification levels. Through these innovative tools, inspectors can conduct their inspections within a safe distance from the pipe network.
Importance of Maintaining the Pipeline Infrastructure
At any time, a section of the pipeline may encounter problems due to corrosion, leaks damage or even production-related issues. Above ground pipes are especially vulnerable to rust and degradation brought by continuous exposure to sunlight, water, and air. Natural disasters such as earthquakes, tornadoes, and storms can also damage the network.
On top of that, some pipelines transfer flammable or combustible materials which could cause problems when transmitted in less than ideal conditions. When not addressed immediately, these issues could cause human and environmental problems to the surrounding area. For this reason, regular inspections are performed to ensure the pipelines are operating safely and within standards.
Regular inspections could help detect pipeline flaws before they become significant human and environmental hazards. The structural and operational integrity of the network should be maintained at all times. That is why internal and external tests and visual inspections should be done on a regular basis.