Bob Herbert, President of NACE International examines the huge cost of corrosion and what can be done to combat the key challenges.
According to the 2002 study 'Corrosion Costs and Preventive Strategies in the United States,' pipeline corrosion costs approximately $7 billion annually in this country alone. This figure does not include indirect costs such as downtime and lost productivity. If you look at the oil and gas industry as a whole - including production, processing, refining, etc. - the figure is closer to $20 billion annually. The study found that direct corrosion costs overall for the US is $276 billion per year, or 3.1% of the Gross Domestic Product. We have since learned that this%age can be extrapolated to the economies of other developed countries to determine just how pervasive and expensive the problem is worldwide.
The cost of corrosion study determined that up to 30% of corrosion costs can be saved just by using currently available corrosion control technologies. The problem is convincing management that by incurring the costs of professionally planned and managed corrosion programs, such as using trained personnel, conducting regular inspections, and implementing the best control and repair methods, companies actually save significant money over the lifetime of the asset. Unfortunately in many instances it is a matter of "out of sight, out of mind," until something goes wrong - and that can be not only expensive, but catastrophic.
Without doubt the number one concern that oil and gas companies face today in terms of tackling corrosion in pipelines is the aging infrastructure - many of our pipelines and related structures have met or are exceeding their original design lives. Replacing these assets is extremely expensive and disruptive, so the corrosion industry continues to work on more effective ways to inspect, rehabilitate, and maintain the infrastructure. Another challenge involves the expansion and encroachment of cities in areas where pipelines were once easily accessible. For example, a major pipeline buried in an open field may now be covered over with roads and buildings, challenging corrosion professionals to come up with more complicated and innovative ways to inspect and repair.
Maintaining and replacing worn out parts in hostile environments is a difficult issue. There are just so many environments that are considered hostile and conducive to corrosion for various reasons, including fog and humidity, air pollution, proximity to saltwater and corrosive soils. It is critical that the corrosion professional understand the specific conditions of the area in order to select the best materials and corrosion control methods, whether in the design phase or during maintenance. With the corrosion control methods we have today, which include cathodic and anodic protection, numerous coating and lining formulations and systems, chemical treatment, and materials selection and design, we can tailor a program to best control corrosion in specific environments. It is not always easy, but it can be done.
During the last decade or so, we have seen a big push in new research and development to address older systems as well as smaller-diameter pipelines. There have been improvements in coating formulations and systems for internal and external use, better inhibitors for protecting against such problems as microbiologically influenced corrosion and sulfate-reducing bacteria, and breakthroughs in materials, including plastics and other nonmetallic composites. In addition, there are a wide variety of very effective inspection and monitoring techniques available, including close interval surveys, direct current voltage gradient and alternating current voltage gradient surveys, alternating current attenuation surveys, soil resistivity surveys, ultrasonic testing, and smart pigging, all of which help provide an accurate indicator of a pipeline's condition.
Integrated risk assessment and integrity management programs have also emerged to help tackle some of the key challenges. The emphasis on pipeline integrity has increased significantly in recent years, largely in response to several high-profile, catastrophic failures that were caused by corrosion. Stricter regulations, liability and safety issues, and increased emphasis on protecting the environment are bringing corrosion control considerations to the forefront of pipeline protection programs. The continuing development of pipeline integrity technology brings regular improvement to pipeline integrity and safety. The accuracy with which the inspections can pinpoint areas of concern or of apparently good pipe continues to improve as well. This has enhanced safety since now problem areas can be accurately located and remedial action taken as required. In my opinion, one of our biggest opportunities is to optimize the use of existing tools and technologies through the use of risk and decision analysis principles.
NACE was founded by 11 pipeline corrosion experts back in 1943, and although the association has since branched out to cover all areas of the corrosion industry, pipeline corrosion remains at our core. Our most significant contribution to this industry, and the corrosion industry as a whole, is our corrosion education, training and certification programs. There has been unprecedented growth in these programs over the last several years, especially internationally, as countries and governments everywhere recognize the importance and value of a trained corrosion workforce. NACE offers numerous pipeline-related courses, including four levels of cathodic protection training, a course on using coatings with cathodic protection, the world-renowned Coating Inspector Program, assessment training, operator qualification, and many others.
NACE is also the leading standards organization for corrosion control, offering more than 200 standards developed by industry experts, approximately half of which relate to the oil and gas industry. NACE holds corrosion conferences and seminars worldwide, publishes and disseminates journals, books, and reports; has a strong public affairs presence; and offers many other corrosion resources from our website.
NACE exceeded 20,000 members for the first time in its history this year, with most of the growth occurring outside of the US and Canada. Although the prominent types of industries, environments, and regulatory requirements may differ from country to country and even city to city, one thing is clear - we all recognize that controlling corrosion will reduce costs in any economy while protecting public safety and the world around us.
For more information on NACE International please visit www.nace.org
Unprotected pipelines, whether buried in the ground, exposed to the atmosphere or submerged in water, are susceptible to corrosion. Without proper maintenance, every pipeline system will eventually deteriorate. Corrosion can weaken the structural integrity of a pipeline and make it an unsafe vehicle for transporting potentially hazardous materials. However, technology exists to extend pipeline structural life indefinitely if applied correctly and maintained consistently.
Coating and linings: are often applied in conjunction with cathodic protection systems to provide the most cost-effective protection.
Cathodic protection: uses direct electrical current to counteract the normal external corrosion of a metal pipeline.
Materials selection: a selection of corrosion-resistant materials, such as stainless steel, plastics and special alloys.
Corrosion inhibitors: extend the life of pipelines, prevent system shutdowns and failures, avoiding contamination.
[Source: NACE International]