Commercial Gas Pipework - Leakage of steam in heat pipeline

What Are The Causes Of Commercial Gas Pipework Failures?

Natural gas is one of the most widely used energy sources in the world. It’s used for a variety of purposes including electricity generation, domestic and industrial heating and cooking, for transport, and for multiple purposes in the manufacturing industry. 

It is relatively clean-burning when compared to other fossil fuels, and it’s also efficient and cost effective in comparison to other energy sources. The world’s gas consumption continues to rise and therefore the installation and maintenance of commercial gas pipelines is of increasing importance. 

Gas is mainly composed of methane, hydrogen, and carbon monoxide, with small amounts of ethane, butane, and propane. Natural gas contains halogen compounds and has a strong oxidising ability, meaning that it has a tendency to gain electrons and undergo reductions. 

This means that natural gas is highly reactive and flammable when exposed to air and a potential source of ignition. Therefore the safe storage and transportation of natural gas is of utmost importance. 

Although pipelines are generally a very safe way to transport gas, failures occur for a variety of reasons. It’s important to be aware of the causes of these failures to mitigate against future problems and ensure that the pipelines are as safe as they can be. 

Gas leaks can lead to fires and explosions. These are potentially very serious incidents, destroying buildings and even communities, killing people and causing life-changing injuries. The disruption and damage  to businesses, services, and homes can cost millions of pounds and take considerable time to repair.

Lives may be lost, and serious injuries can require weeks or even months of hospital treatment. The incident can also result in serious environmental damage and cause ongoing health problems for people within the vicinity. 

Previous research has shown that the majority of pipeline failures occur due to corrosion and deterioration over time, poor quality materials, changing soil and land conditions, excavation work, natural hazards such as earthquakes and floods, and human operational error. Occasionally failures may occur as a result of theft, terrorist attacks, and sabotage. 

Risk assessment and risk management processes are used to evaluate potential dangers and hazards of gas pipelines and to implement safety standards. The key to preventing future incidents is good training and knowledge transfer, a solid skills base, strong management and good design. 

One of the most common causes of pipeline failure is ageing. Many gas pipelines still in operation in the UK were installed 60 years ago or even further back, and are made from iron which is prone to corrosion from external factors such as moisture or compounds in the soil, or from internal sources such as water or other corrosive agents in the gas.  

The older pipes may also have welded joints that are more prone to leaking. Although an extensive upgrade and replacement programme is underway for the UK’s gas infrastructure, the older pipes remain in use that are coming to the end of their lifespan, and these are most at risk of failure caused by corrosion.

Sometimes gas pipelines can be damaged unintentionally due to excavation work, when workers dig too near an underground network. The contact with the excavator equipment can disrupt the pipe and may cause a leak or an immediate explosion. 

The excavation work may be taking place to install other utilities, for construction or agricultural purposes, or to inspect or repair the pipelines themselves. Averse pipeline incidents may also occur due to equipment failure, such as faulty or failed valves, pumps, pressure gauges. 

Natural forces such as earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes are also a potential hazard. It is not possible to avoid this risk entirely, but operators have a duty to build pipelines in areas that are known to be at a lower risk of natural disasters. 

Sometimes, environmental factors such as extremes of temperature or soil erosion can put stress on pipelines, causing them to bend or buckle. This may particularly be the case if the pipework is poorly designed and of inappropriate material. 

Third party interference is another cause of natural gas pipe explosions, whether through intentional vandalism or terrorism, or due to unauthorised excavations. Pipelines should be continuously monitored and maintained to mitigate against risk of failure and to detect potential problems early.

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