Testing Pipelines

Common Problems

Oil is moved from the well head to the refinery by two methods.  The first is to store the crude at the well head in factory constructed tanks or use pipelines to bring the oil straight from wellheads to the refinery. Almost all productive oil fields use pipelines. There are thousands and thousands of 2” pipelines crisscrossing hundreds of miles of oil fields across the country. And all of these pipelines need to be tested.

Unfortunately, the system used most often for testing oil pipelines is costly, time-intensive and unable to provide much useful information. Based on 100 year-old technology using dead weights, volumetric pipeline testing is the source of problems in a number of ways:

  • Time: Pipelines only make money when they are moving product, but pipelines must be shut down for 4 or 5 days in order to be tested with dead weights. And that’s only if you don’t find a leak!
  • Accuracy: Dead weight testing requires two different types of technology: determining whether or not there is a leak and locating the leak. They test the pipeline in large 20 mile sections. When they detect a leak in a section, they then split the section in half find out which half the leak is in then contenue splitting the line till it is small enough to dig up the final section.!
  • Cost: It costs tens of thousands of dollars to conduct the initial test, which will not even tell you where to find the leak. As they conduct more tests to find the leak, the costs continue to go up. And this doesn’t even count the cost of shutting down production for days at a time!
  • Evaluation: Using the dead weight system, testers are unable to predict future risk. They can tell you whether or not there is an actual leak at the time of the test. They can tell you how big that leak is once they find it. But they cannot tell you which parts of the pipeline are high risk areas for potential future leaks.
  • Pressure: Dead weight testing requires the pipeline to be tested at 150% of the working pressure. The idea is to try and break the pipeline at any weak point. You have to run water through the pipeline, because if you run the test using oil and find a leak, it could cause additional environmental damage.
  • Variables: There are a lot of variables that have to be considered when running these tests. For example, temperature fluctuations can provide faulty test results.

So, what ends up happening?

Once every five years, you use an overly complex and costly testing system that does not even help you plan for the future. With thousands of miles of pipes to monitor, it is easy for leaks to go undetected at some point during the five year interval, and these leaks often lead to major spills with major clean-up costs.

In what other industry are companies across the board willing to take such a monumental risk with their most valued asset? You may think the old volumetric pipeline testing is your only option. Luckily, it isn’t.

Contact one of our specialists and learn more about what you can do to protect your pipelines and your product.