By Phil McKenna
For natural gas pipeline developers hunting for a good deal on a 100-mile section of steel pipe, a recent advertisement claimed to have just what they are looking for.
Following the cancelation of the proposed Constitution natural gas pipeline in Pennsylvania and New York, a private equity firm recently offered a “massive inventory” of never-used, “top-quality” coated steel pipe.
What the company didn’t mention is that the pipe may have sat, exposed to the elements, for more than a year, a period of time that exceeds the pipe coating manufacturers’ recommendation for aboveground storage, which could make the pipe prone to failure.
Long term, aboveground pipe storage has become commonplace as pipeline developers routinely begin construction activity on pipeline projects before obtaining all necessary permits and as legal challenges add lengthy delays.
Whether canceled or stalled, overdue oil and gas pipelines across the country may face a little-known problem that raises new safety concerns and could add additional costs and delays.
Fusion bonded epoxy, the often turquoise-green protective coating covering sections of steel pipe in storage yards from North Dakota to North Carolina, may have degraded to the point that it is no longer effective. The coatings degrade when exposed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun while the pipes they cover sit above ground for years.
The compromised coatings leave the underlying pipes more prone to corrosion and failures that could result in leaks, catastrophic spills or explosions. Degraded coatings were implicated in an oil spill from a failed pipeline near Santa Barbara, California in 2015. Toxic compounds may also be released as the coating breaks down, raising concerns that the pipes could pose a health threat to those who live near the vast storage yards holding them.
“There are pipelines being built all over the place and it doesn’t seem like anyone is keeping close track of what the status is of the coatings,” said Amy Mall, a senior advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “There are a lot of unknowns here and yet we’re relying on the coating to protect landscapes and communities from massive explosions.”