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Future Pipeline Environmental Sustainability

Environmental Sustainability Overview

Given the large volume increases in basic chemicals and coal-n.e.c. forecasted for OKI’s pipelines by 2050, the probability for environmental impacts most likely will increase. However, considering the region’s excellent safety record for significantly reducing pipeline spills the past twenty years, as well as advances in pipeline technology, industry analysts say that our pipeline network will help make freight transportation more environmentally sustainable and resilient.

New Advancements in Pipeline Leakage Detection Technology

The largest increase in pipeline volume by 2050 is expected in basic chemicals (217%) — which includes natural gas. Natural gas pipeline and installation leaks pose a serious problem to community health and safety, and the environment. Natural gas is 70% to 90% methane, a potent greenhouse gas and major contributor to climate change. The most common methods for detecting methane leaks are by satellite, aircraft, or ground personnel surveillance.

Given the thousands of miles of pipeline, technology offers the potential for consistent and thorough monitoring of methane and other hazardous gases and liquids. Drones can view a pipeline from ground level to about 100 meters. Increasingly sophisticated communications technology, combined with great leaps in sensor miniaturization and sensitivity, and are showing to be extremely cost-effective and accurate. In particular, the development of a new, smaller and lighter laser spectrometer allows extremely accurate methane detection, and which is easily transported by modern low-cost drones.

(Source: Kyle Fairchild and Mark Iden (SkyData Air & Space USA). Drone-Based Methane Emissions Detection. Proceedings Publication from the Pipeline Technology Conference. (2022).)

White cloud blows outwards from a rusty metal pipe just above grass covered ground.

Liquid Nitrogen Leak in Georgia on January 29, 2021
Source: Morgan & Morgan Law Firm. Personal Injury Webpage. (2022).

Transition to Cleaner Energy Sources and Future Role of Pipelines

The climate crisis is one of the biggest global challenges of the 21st century. The federal government and other public and private organizations are taking steps to ease this crisis through the adoption of renewable energy sources. As the energy transition advances, pipeline networks provide an efficient transportation and storage option for renewable low-carbon gases and other synthetic fuels. Pipelines also make the energy supply network more sustainable, flexible, resilient, reliable, and affordable.

(Source: Siemens Energy. Power-to-X: The Crucial Business on the Way to a Carbon-Free World (2021).)

Pipelines will also be used in assisting carbon capture, utilization, and storage initiatives by transporting carbon dioxide safely from emission locations to permanent storage or end use locations. For these reasons, our current and future expanded pipeline network will continue to play a critical role in providing an integrated future energy system.

(Source: Neil Gallon, Mario Humbert, and Michael Tewes (ROSEN Group). Energy Transition and the Impact on Pipeline Integrity. Proceedings Publication from the Pipeline Technology Conference (March 25, 2022).)

GIS Analytic Technology to Avoid Geohazards

The OKI region’s geography places us in a good position for the future as we witness the growing frequencies of hurricanes, volcano eruptions, and tornados in other parts of the country. However, growing severe weather­ — including abrupt, heavy storms, resulting in more incidents of flooding and landslides; droughts bringing a higher potential for wildfires; and dramatic temperature fluctuations — are possible climate impacts facing our region’s future.

New analytic tools using GIS have been developed that quantitatively assess various geohazards to optimize the routing of new pipeline. These tools will be important to the OKI region as additional pipeline may be needed between now and 2050, based on future pipeline volume projections and the existing capacity of our current pipeline network.

In addition to geohazards, this technology can examine other factors to minimize distance, avoid sensitive environmental areas, and consider land uses as well as other natural and man-made constraints. By analyzing all spatial data, pipeline personnel can maximize their avoidance of as many problematic topographical, geological, geotechnical, and seismological areas as possible when determining the footprint of new pipeline networks.

(Source: Prodromos N. Psarrapoulos, Stefanos Tsougkranis, Andreas A. Antoniou (National Technical University, Athens, Greece). A Smart Decision-Support GIS-Based Tool for the Optimization of Pipeline Routing Taking into Consideration the Potential Geohazards. Proceedings Publication from the Pipeline Technology Conference. (2016).)

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