The Myths about Natural Gas Pipeline Explosions

The installation of a widespread natural gas infrastructure in Kerala may well mark a watershed in the State’s economic history. Over the years, Kerala’s poor power infrastructure has been a major stumbling block to growth. Blackouts and poor quality of power have resulted in idle machinery, deserted assembly lines and dark homes.
The Kerala Gail Gas project, which will pipe natural gas to homes, commercial establishments, industry and power houses, is expected to improve the quality of life of the average Keralite by providing employment, cleaner air, energy security and cheaper fuel.
The infrastructure set up by Kerala Gail Gas would include a network of pipes that will carry natural gas from the terminal to the various points of distribution. Underground and undersea pipes will ensure that Kerala homes and business have access to a clean and continuous source of energy. Most importantly, contrary to various allegations regarding the dangers, the pipelines are the safest way to transport natural gas.
Myth 1: Natural gas pipelines are prone to explode and catch fire
Fact: Pipelines are the safest way to transport natural gas as compared to road and rail transport. A pipeline leak would catch fire or explode only if there is an ignition. Natural gas pipelines are fitted with enough leak detectors to catch the danger early on.
Secondly, even if the leak does happen, natural gas is flammable only when the mixture of natural gas and air is between 5 to 15 percent. Also, the ignition rate of natural gas is very high and it dissipates easily in the air. Thus a natural gas leak has a lower chance of causing an explosion or fire as compared to petrol or diesel.
Myth 2: Natural gas pipelines easily corrode causing leaks
Fact: Natural gas pipelines are built of extremely strong material like carbon steel. Sometimes, an advanced plastic is also used. In addition, the pipelines have a special coating made of fusion bond epoxy (FBE).  The purpose of the coating is to prevent external corrosion by prohibiting moisture from coming into direct contact with the metal. The preparation of the coating involves cleaning the external surface of the pipe with a shot-blast process. The pipe is then heated before the epoxy bond is coated on. Prior to installation, high voltage electricity is passed through the pipe to test the effectiveness of the epoxy bond.

Myth 3: Pipeline explosions cause a lot of fatalities

Fact: The chances of being killed in a pipeline explosion are less than being struck by lightning. In America where natural gas is widely used, as per statistics released by the United States Department of Transportation, the total number of fatalities from 1992 to 2011 was 384. According to yet another study (Source: “natural gas shows lowest expected fatality rates of all fossil energy chains, both in OECD and non-OECD countries.” Furthermore, the study adds that the dangerous consequences for natural gas are also clearly lower than for other fossil chains.
Myth 4: Accidental rupture of pipelines due to digging or natural calamities can be disastrous.
Fact: Pipeline markers indicate the presence of underground pipelines to the public, to reduce the chance of any interference with the pipeline. Other safety precautions taken by natural gas companies around the world include helicopter patrolling, and automatic shut down of operations in case of emergencies. Leak detection application software and continuous monitoring of the pipeline pressures help ensure safety.
Natural gas pipelines are thus not any more dangerous than other forms of flammable energy sources. More importantly, in a world of depleting energy resources, an industrial economy has to tap into all available sources. Given that they are safe, reliable and economical, pipelines are the most viable option to carry natural gas.

  • Manickam Valliappan

    We learn from incidents. The recent GAIL pipeline accident in Andhra Pradesh prompted the companies to review their corrosion management functions. Many assumptions are made during the design of new pipeline asset. Flaws in these assumptions form the basis for uncertainties we observe in the later stage of project, especially in the operational phase. Corrosion is an environment specific problem. Corrosion control identified for one geography may respond differently in another location. Corrosion risk assessment should be executed and included in Environmental Impact Assessment. Life cycle analysis has to be carried out to choose the best materials of construction and associated corrosion control for the subject design. Internal corrosion of pipelines is often neglected by oil and gas infrastructure companies. Suitable corrosion management policy and strategy should be identified to include both internal and external corrosion aspects.