Natural Gas Pipelines – Safety Precautions Make Accidents Rare

 
The setting up of the natural gas infrastructure in Kerala is expected to usher in an era of industrial prosperity. The 505 km pipeline which covers Ernakulum, Thrissur, Palakkad, Malappuram, Kozhikode and Kannur will strengthen the state’s energy security. As of now, Kerala is dependent on the vagaries of the monsoon to feed its power stations. The Kerala Gail Gas project is expected to change this scenario dramatically.
 
The key to setting up a well distributed natural gas infrastructure in Kerala is the installation of a network of pipes running from the point of origin to the point of use. It is a universally acknowledged fact that pipelines are the safest way to transport natural gas. With more and more countries around the world seeking energy independence, the network of natural gas pipelines has been expanding. This is because natural gas transportation by pipelines is considered to be safer than through rail or road. A study by the Manhattan Institute of Policy Research concluded that “in addition to enjoying a substantial cost advantage, pipelines result in fewer fatalities, injuries, and environmental damage than road and rail. Americans are more likely to get struck by lightning than to be killed in a pipeline accident.”
 

Image : Natural Gas Pipeline Network in USA


 
US government statistics also reveal that between 2007 and 2011, pipelines accounted for 14 fatalities per year, including two per year on the bulk transmission network. In comparison, 3,675 people were killed in accidents involving trucks and 730 were killed by the railroads, in 2010. This result is significant in view of the fact that the US is one of the biggest users of natural gas. The country has around 2.4 million miles of pipeline which serve 70 million customers including homes, offices, industries and power plants.
 
The Department of Transport in the US has also reported that pipelines are the safest method of transporting natural gas. The department states that while there are more than 100 deaths caused every year due to the electric transmission lines, there were zero deaths associated with transmission pipelines and 10 deaths associated with the distribution system in 2009. This would imply that fatalities associated with electric lines are more than that from pipelines.
 
Making Pipelines Safe for the Population
 
Robotic Checks: Natural gas pipelines are regularly checked for defects or any corrosion with the help of robotic devices. These devices are inserted deep into the pipelines and are able to “test pipe thickness, and roundness, check for signs of corrosion, detect minute leaks, and any other defect along the interior of the pipeline that may either impede the flow of gas, or pose a potential safety risk to the operation of the pipeline,” says a report published by NaturalGas.org. The devices record details about the state of the pipes and thus ensure safety.
 
Pipeline Quality: The natural gas transportation route has three kinds of pipelines. These are the gathering pipelines, the interstate pipelines and the distribution pipelines. The pipelines are made of extremely strong material which could either be carbon steel or extremely advanced plastics. Safety regulations set by governments ensure that the pipes undergo rigorous tests to ensure that they can meet the high pressure requirements needed for transporting gas.
 
Beating Corrosion: Corrosion is often the reason for gas line leaks. However, the incidence of corrosion has been reduced with the introduction of a special coating. Made of fusion bond epoxy, the coating protects the pipeline from moisture and thus prevents corrosion. Gas companies also use cathodic protection to ensure safety of their pipes.
 
Natural gas pipeline safety is also ensured by regular detection using trained personnel, aerial surveillances, supervisory control and data acquisition systems, leak detectors, pipeline markers and routine sampling. Public awareness programmes on pipeline safety have helped reduce the probability of accidents. Today, natural gas pipelines are seen as the lifeline for countries seeking economic growth and energy independence.