Of the many energy sources used in industry, oil and gas remain among the most vital and predominant sources. Consequently, pipelines play an essential part in the oil and gas sector, and in this post, we will dig deep to understand more about the oil and natural gas pipeline networks and the standards that govern them.

What are pipelines, and what are they used for?

Oil and natural gas pipeline are a vital part of transportation infrastructure in the oil and gas industry. They helped move raw materials and finished or processed products to their destinations across vast distances. Oil and gas products like biofuels, petrol, and natural gas are transported via these pipelines. While some sections are above the road surface, pipelines are laid underground for the most part. Therefore, they vary in size and material based on the type of product they transport and their purpose in the larger supply chain from source to consumer.

Broadly, pipelines are designed to carry oil or natural gas. Crude oil pipes transport unprocessed crude to the refineries, and product pipelines have refined products like heating oil, kerosene, gasoline, and jet fuel, after processing, to end consumers. There are also submarine pipelines; these are used to move raw material from offshore wells to land pipelines which, in turn, carry the oil to refineries for processing. These offshore submarine pipes are costly to build and maintain.

The Natural gas pipeline is the most common mode for transporting gas overland. However, these pipes also vary in material, such as steel and plastic, depending on their function.

U.S. Pipeline System

The U.S. has the largest oil and natural gas pipeline covering over 2.6 million miles. Its natural gas transportation network spans about 1,232,999 miles, and its petroleum products pipelines stretch across 149,570 miles. These pipes move billions of tons of petroleum and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas, making them probably the most crucial transportation system in the nation. Russia and Canada boast the second and third largest pipeline networks, respectively.

Types of Oil and Gas Pipelines

In the complete system of oil and gas pipelines, there are five major sections of pipelines classified based on their function in the network.

  • Flowlines: At the source, flowlines carry the raw material from the wellhead to the gathering lines. These pipes move a mix of oil, gas, and water to the gathering pipes. There is also sand in this mix since it is the raw material at its very source. Therefore, flowlines need to be large pipes, usually over 12 inches wide.
  • Gathering Pipelines: As the name suggests, these pipes collect the raw material from the feeder pipes linked to the wellheads. They carry this material to storage tanks or refineries for processing. They gather pipes transporting materials like crude oil and natural gas and liquids like propane, butane, and ethane. Generally, these pipelines carry raw gas at a pressure of 715 PSI. They are in sections of about 200 meters long on average and vary in diameter from 2 inches to 20 inches depending on what they are used for; shale production gathering pipes or moving of crude oil.
  • Feeder Pipelines: Natural gas, crude oil, and natural gas liquids must be sent to transmission pipes for long-distance material movement across the country or even across national borders. Feeder pipelines perform this function; carrying products from refineries and storage tanks to transmission pipes. These pipelines are generally between 6 and 12 inches in diameter.
  • Transmission Pipes: These pipes do the heavy lifting as far as distance coverage is concerned. They move the refined products or natural gas across thousands of miles to reach distribution systems, getting products to end-users. To carry the products across these vast distances, they use compressor stations and pump stations to move the material forward and need more significant pipeline pressure ranging from 200 to 1,200 PSI.
  • Distribution Lines: These lines form the final leg of the supply chain from wellhead to consumer. This last section is divided into two parts – mains and service pipelines. Mains handle the transition between high-pressure transmission lines and low-pressure service lines and are made of cast iron, plastic, copper, or steel. Service pipelines are attached to meters and carry the products to end-users at a pressure as low as 6 PSI.

 Right-of-Way (ROW)

Pipelines pass through thousands of miles of both government and private property. This implies that both pipeline owners and landowners have a stake in the land being used. Both parties use the ground, and their rights and privileges vary since they access and use the property for different reasons. Such property is referred to as Right of Way (ROW) property and is managed by a written agreement between the landowners and the pipeline company to permit land use for the pipeline to pass through. These agreements are known as easements which take the form of purchase, licensing, or written undertakings between the parties. Oil and gas companies must strictly and regularly monitor, inspect, and maintain these pipelines. That means the Right of Way property must be suitably accessed for such work without hindrances such as trees, overgrowth, encroachments, and unapproved structures being erected on the land. Companies must follow several important guidelines to manage and maintain ROW property.

 Regulatory Oversight

Oil and gas pipelines come under many regulations and standards depending on the type of pipeline, the location, the material it is made of, and the product it is transporting. Besides state agencies that prescribe state-specific mandates and standards, several federal regulatory bodies are involved. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is the apex body for the oil and gas sector. Other prominent bodies include BOEM (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management), which provides federal offshore land exploration leases. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) oversees interstate transportation regulations and moderates pipeline rates for optimized use of infrastructure. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) comes under the purview of the Department of Transportation and is responsible for regulations on the safety and performance of pipelines. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages federally owned onshore land and acts as a single point source of information on land data, sale and lease information, etc. Bodies like the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulate environmental safety and protection matters.

 Reduce downtime and Optimized Pipeline Management 

Given the high stakes of oil and gas pipes and the rigorous regulatory standards involved, companies must conduct frequent gas pipeline surveys and operate pipelines with the strictest oversight and control. Apps like Fielda helps companies manage and maintain their assets and gain a real-time overview of all tasks, workflows & projects to improve operational efficiency. Fielda supports inspection and operations teams collaborate and co-ordinate to efficiently plan, execute and monitor inspections, repairs, and maintenance work. This helps companies enable the highest levels of productivity while also staying compliant. Fielda’s digital-first approach helps companies manage workflow with agility, handle data securely, and gain a real-time view of operations for optimized decision making.