By Jeff Juergens
Easing critical pipeline integrity operations and maintenance is essential for promoting overall pipeline safety. Operators and contractors are turning to innovative solutions like composite matting systems to quickly and efficiently build worksite platforms and temporary roadways to support pipeline construction, maintenance and inspection operations. These systems, which are easier to transport and install than alternatives like wooden mats, deliver significant logistical efficiencies and cost benefits, while enhancing worker safety and minimizing accidents by stabilizing heavy equipment.
Increased Pipeline Activity, Heightened Scrutiny
Ongoing development of domestic oil and gas resources is contributing to an increase in pipeline construction activity. According to the latest findings released by Douglas Westwood’s (DW) Pipeline Database Service, $22 billion in capital expenditures have been slated for the construction of more than 23,000 miles of pipeline throughout North America from 2014 to 2020. Additional data shows that operators are planning to install more than 9,300 miles of pipeline in 2014 alone.
Beyond adding additional capacity to transport oil and gas from areas as widespread as the 95,000-square-mile Marcellus shale play in the Northeast United States and the 24,000-square-mile Bakken shale formation based primarily in North Dakota, further efforts and resources are being dedicated to upgrading and inspecting existing pipeline infrastructure.
In the midst of all this activity, oversight of pipeline safety has become a hot button issue. Recent high profile incidents, like the 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno, California, and 2013 pipeline spill in Mayflower, Arkansas, have spurred increased regulatory scrutiny. In 2013, there were 621 incidents, resulting in 10 fatalities and 46 injuries. Eleven percent of these pipeline incidents were caused by “Excavation Damage,” according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). As a result of these kinds of high profile incidents and the build-out of pipelines in populated areas, regulatory agencies have begun to ratchet up their oversight of the industry.
On the heels of the fatal San Bruno pipeline blast, President Obama signed into law the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act of 2011, which promoted jobs in the sector while authorizing PHMSA to increase its penalties. The act effectively doubled the maximum civil penalty to be paid by pipeline operators for safety violations. Penalty limits jumped to $200,000 per violation, per day, from a previous cap of $100,000; while the limit for total penalties for a series of related violations was increased to $2 million from $1 million.
Recently, the U.S. Congress also asked the PHMSA to begin developing a national inventory of gathering lines, with an eye to establishing further regulatory guidelines for
This regulatory climate makes finding cost-effective ways to improve pipeline safety an imperative for owners and contractors alike, while market factors continue to keep efficient maintenance and inspection of pipelines a high priority. With this in mind, pipeline operators are using advanced-composite matting systems, such as the DURA-BASE manufactured by Newpark Mats & Integrated Services. This type of matting system helps minimize incidents, while enhancing worker safety and safeguarding the environment.
Perils of Pipeline Jobsites
Pipeline construction and maintenance projects can take place in any manner of extreme weather and ground conditions, which often make worksites treacherous for both equipment and workers. Aside from the logistical difficulties these conditions pose, worker safety is also of great concern.
During construction and directional drilling, unstable ground conditions can impede the movement of heavy equipment. In worst case scenarios, this instability could potentially lead to catastrophic accidents resulting in injury or death, as well as compromised pipeline integrity. Even when calamity doesn’t strike, accidents can cause costly delays, resulting in project overruns and wasted resources.
Traditional site preparation solutions have commonly called for the use of wooden mats to support excavating equipment, but this approach often poses additional risks. Wooden mats are materially unstable and prone to shifting, while also inclined to pinching and gapping between mats. This uneven surface jeopardizes workers, running the risk of safety incidents like twisted ankles, along with slips, trips and falls.
U.S. Department of Labor data reveals that the majority of general industry accidents are the result of slips, trips and falls. These incidents are the cause of 15 percent of all accidental deaths, which is second only to work-related motor vehicle accidents. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ report on the Occupational Injury and Illness Classification System, 86 percent of falls on the same level occurred when a worker fell on or from a floor, walkway or ground surface.
Even when a fatality isn’t the end result, these incidents each lead to an average of 11 days away from work and $40,000 in cost per incident. In the end, it serves both the operators and their personnel to identify hazards and establish best practices, which will serve to minimize claims and injuries, while saving time and money.
Easing Operations, Enhancing Safety
In the case of the DURA-BASE solution, the advance-composite matting system is precision-engineered with worksite perils in mind. The system’s interlocking design forms a smooth continuous work surface that enhances worker safety and eliminates differential movement, as well as pinching and gapping. This design also serves to stabilize the worksite by evenly distributing the weight of heavy machinery. Additionally, the system’s treaded surface delivers added foot and tire traction.
These safety benefits make the system an optimal solution for the building of staging areas during construction projects. It also lends added stability to directional drilling projects, which is essential in soft-soil conditions.
Despite their rugged construction, DURA-BASE mats weigh half as much as wooden mats. These lightweight, advanced-composite mats require fewer trucks to haul, which both lowers transportation costs and lessens road wear by reducing traffic around the worksite. As previously noted, motor vehicle accidents are the highest source of workplace fatalities. By cutting down on truck traffic, the system not only makes operations more efficient, it also alleviates another potential source of accidents.
Easing Logistics, Promoting Pipeline Safety
Ongoing pipeline integrity inspections and maintenance of existing pipeline infrastructure are both major parts of the industry’s efforts to curb incidents and maintain pipeline safety.
Companies focused on pipeline integrity or maintenance can be called upon to conduct inspections or repairs at any point along miles of pipeline. In these instances, remote access is critical to maintaining pipeline integrity, along with the safety of surrounding communities.
Because of their ease of transport and deployment, DURA-BASE mats are an ideal solution for pipeline integrity and maintenance operations, allowing companies to quickly and safely construct temporary roadways to get in and out of hard to reach areas, regardless of terrain.
The DURA-BASE system uses a patented twist-lock feature to make deploying the mats simple and easy. The ease of installation is critical to expediting pipeline inspections and maintenance, regardless of tough terrain or weather conditions. Easy installation and remobilization also allows users to rapidly “leap frog” mats from roadway to roadway or site to site, saving on rental fleet costs and transportation expenses.
Using advanced-composite mats to construct stable work platforms and temporary roadways helps to prevent work disruption resulting from equipment getting stuck or overturning. The ground protection benefits of the technology also minimize any potential inconvenience or risk to private landowners with pipelines on their property.
An Environmentally Friendly Alternative
Beyond the safety and logistical benefits that operators and contractors gain when using advanced-composite matting, these systems also are a more environmentally friendly alternative to wooden mats. DURA-BASE is 100 percent recyclable and can be reused again and again; lasting five times longer than wood. In contrast, wooden mats require special disposal — either in a landfill or via incineration.
Additionally, the composite mats’ non-absorbent, sealed, single-piece construction prevents the absorption of water and contaminants, or the harboring of foreign debris. This design makes the mats easier to clean and alleviates environmental concerns about contaminants potentially being carried from site-to-site, while reducing the added risk of roadway hazards caused by falling debris trapped in the matrix of wooden mats.
The Bottom Line
With the development of unconventional resources continuing for the foreseeable future, expanding and maintaining North America’s pipe-line infrastructure has become more important than ever. High profile projects like Keystone XL are squarely in the public eye and regulatory agencies are taking a hard look at the safety of existing pipelines. The industry must turn to new solutions for maintaining pipeline safety and nothing less than our nation’s energy security is at stake.
Thankfully, the oil and gas industry is powered by a can-do attitude that drives innovation. By using new technologies, such as advanced-composite mats, pipeline owners and contractors have a way to enhance worker safety during construction, maintenance and inspection operations, while benefiting from added logistical efficiencies and cost-savings.
More importantly, easing these operations contributes to the overall safety of pipelines for the communities where they are situated. Cutting-edge solutions like advanced-composite mats prove that as pipeline infrastructure grows, advances in technology can make this growth safer for everyone.
Jeff Juergens is president of Newpark Mats & Integrated Services. He joined the company in 2010 and has more than 30 years of oilfield service company experience.