Does Age Matter?
The subject of aging has been debated by many. Some cite things only get better with age while others are inclined to toss out the old and go with the newer, cooler version when its released. Our aging national infrastructure is one subject for such discussion. Just exactly when does a road need to be replaced versus repaired? This question can be asked of virtually any public facility or even the personal items we use in our everyday lives, from our roads and bridges, to our clothes and furniture. And pipeline infrastructure is no exception.
As with almost every type of infrastructure, the operation and maintenance of the facility is what really counts when evaluating the longevity of the asset. If properly cared for, and infrastructure can last much longer than our lifetime, even indefinitely.
While about 40% of today’s energy infrastructure was built between 1950 and 1960, the majority has been built since then. When evaluating the integrity and fitness of a pipeline system, several factors are initially considered. Among them are the material and process, when the pipe was manufactures, the construction methods used, and the maintenance history of the pipeline. As the industry has progressed, so too, have the methods by which pipelines are designed, built and maintained.
Maintaining a pipeline properly is the top priority for any operator. Ensuring the safety of the communities in which they operate and of their personnel is key. To do this, operators depend on numerous servicing activities, while also investing in research and development of new technology. Additionally, they apply the knowledge learned from operational expertise and the experience garnered from past incidents.
Recent, tragic incidents have caused pipeline operators and regulators to further escalate their efforts to evaluate the steps taken to ensure the safety of the public and the protection of the environment. Comprehensive regulatory reviews are underway by the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) as well as Congress. Operators are reviewing historical records and reevaluating current practices to ensure the integrity of their systems.