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Methods of Oil Pipe Cleaning

Shrinivas Kanade Mar 16, 2020
Do you remember the Canadian pipeline oil spill and the pollution it caused? The crude oil carrying pipelines are the lifeline of our economy. Clean pipes maintain a steady flow of oil through them. To know more about cleaning the oil pipes, read on...
The crude oil pipeline operator companies are employing advanced technologies to minimize potential losses, incurred due to the leakages from pipelines. The strict environmental laws are prompting these companies to monitor the pipelines vigilantly. It is said that the corrosion of the pipelines is the main cause of 55 - 60 percent of oil leakages.
Most of these pipelines were installed long back, and today, we are still dependent on these aging pipeline networks to carry precious fuels from the oil fields or the oil drilling sites to the refineries. Oil pipe cleaning can help pipeline operators in prolonging the life of the pipeline infrastructure and maintain it well.

Ruptures and Spills

Over a period of time and depending on the chemical properties of the liquids transported through the pipeline, various substances get deposited in the pipeline. These deposits may form due to the accumulation of the substances such as heavy hydrocarbons; wax and paraffin, or organic substances such as asphaltene, amines, and glycol.
Minerals such as iron sulfate, etc., may accumulate in the pipelines in the form of mineral scales. The deposits resist the flow of the crude oil or the fuel, and increase the internal pressure in the pipeline. Water accumulated in low spots inside the pipeline corrodes it.
The corrosion weakens the walls of the pipeline. The more than normal internal pressure targets a spot on the wall of the pipeline, weakened due to the corrosion, and ruptures it. The oil spills from the ruptured pipeline causing environmental pollution.

Cleaning Methods for an Oil Pipe

Mechanical and advanced chemical cleaning are two standard methods used to clean a pipeline.
  1. Mechanical Cleaning: This method removes deposits by mechanical pigging. The special equipment called 'pigs' are inserted into the pipeline. Pigs are equipped with 'cutting instruments' to deal with the deposits.
Its task is to swab deposits from the inner wall of the pipeline until zero amount of deposits are collected at the pig receiving station. However, there is no guarantee that the pipeline will be 100% clean at the end of this procedure.
  • Advanced Chemical CleaningThe industry is preferring advanced chemical cleaning methods. This method is a combination of chemical cleaning and mechanical pigs to remove a greater volume of deposits and debris in a short amount of time. 
Advanced chemical cleaning uses liquid cleaners (chemicals) diluted by adding water, diesel, methanol, iso-propyl-alcohol, etc., to it. This solution is pushed through a pipeline by pigs and tons of deposits and debris is removed.
Pipeline cleaners are chosen for their neutral pH, deposit permeating and penetrating power and specifications regarding cleaner solution. This is a very effective method of removing deposits from the pipelines.
Nowadays, advanced technologies such as magnetic flux leakage and optical inspection are used in oil pipe cleaning. Optical inspection allows the technician to visually inspect the interior of the pipe in 3-dimensions thus increasing the effectiveness of the cleaning process.
Scientists and researchers are doing their best to come up with alternative-fuels, that can one day replace the hydrocarbon-based fuels. They have investigated the biofuels and were successful in demonstrating the use of ethanol as a fuel. Biofuels still have to go a long way before they could help us in minimizing our dependence on the crude-oil-based fuels.
In the United States of America, the Pipeline Integrity Bill makes it mandatory, that the liquid carrying pipelines be inspected every five years and those transporting natural gas every seven years. The countries in Europe and all over the Globe are taking steps to follow this trend.
By using advanced methods, the pipeline operator companies are doing their share to protect the environment. This improves the speed of the movement of crude oil through the pipeline by removing the deposits. It also leads to improved productivity, reduced pipeline maintenance costs, and naturally, increased profits.
The most important benefit of the cleaning out an oil pipe is that it makes the environment safe by minimizing the chances of oil spills.