Please allow time to load...
Pipelines are constructed in a highly-coordinated, well-planned operation by a team of technical experts. We start with survey teams traveling the route of the planned pipeline for construction to perform a comprehensive environmental survey. This ensures sensitive habitats are protected, allows for community input, and ensures the best route is chosen.
During this process, companies obtain numerous permits and approvals from local, state, and federal government agencies. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration are two of the federal agencies that develop and enforce regulations for interstate pipelines. Builders also work with landowners, communities, and other stakeholders to keep them informed during each step of the planning and construction process.
Once all approvals are secure: construction begins. Typically pipelines are made from steel or plastic tubes and have a width of 2 to 60 inches–depending on the substance transported and the demand. Above ground, the pipes are shaped, welded, and coated. Once ready, the pipelines are positioned into place under the ground. Valves and fittings are installed.
Contrary to popular belief: pipelines are the safest way to transport oil and natural gas. In the United States, they have a 99.999% safety record, compared to road or rail. One reason pipelines are so safe is because of the series of tests they undergo before and during operation, including pressure testing for a minimum of eight hours. Results are analyzed and shared with government agencies prior to operations beginning.
Most pipelines are buried underground to minimize any surface impacts. Sometimes they have shielding or padding surround them to protect from impact, abrasion, or corrosion. After the pipe is laid, the topsoil is replaced and the land is reclaimed. In many areas, you wouldn’t even know a pipeline was operating there because biologists and other ecological experts remediate and restore the land with indigenous vegetation and wildlife.
Crude oil and natural gas are collected by pipelines from inland production areas. For natural gas, the pipeline features multiple compressor stations along the route. In these, the gas is pressurized and mixed with a mercaptan odorant for link detection, before being pushing down the pipeline. For liquid oil, most pipelines operate at a speed of six miles per hour. Over 16.2 billion barrels of oil and petroleum products move through pipelines each year.
Petroleum products are often shipped over hundreds or even thousands of miles. For example, the Rockies Express Pipeline runs for more than 1,600 miles between Colorado and eastern Ohio. Pumping stations are positioned throughout the length of each pipeline to adjust the pressure, monitor flow rates, and keep the product pumping.
Pipeline operators inspect their pipelines regularly to check for signs the pipe needs maintenance. In a process called “pigging”, devices are launched from stations and travel through the pipeline cleaning wax buildup and inspecting the line for unsafe conditions. These regular inspections allow pipeline operators to catch and fix issues long before they become a problem. Regular inspections are a big reason why pipelines are the safest way to transport oil and natural gas.
The natural gas we use to heat our homes travels through a network of pipelines in cities and towns across the country. In addition to homes and businesses, manufacturers also use natural gas as a feedstock, and natural gas is the largest source of electric power generation in the United States. Approximately 34% of all natural gas in the United States is used for power generation, while 29% is used for industry and 28% is for residential use. The remainder is used for a variety of purposes, from transportation to onsite fuel.
Once delivered to refineries and chemical manufacturing plants, crude oil and natural gas undergo distillation and other processes to create gasoline, diesel, asphalt, ethylene, ammonia, and many other useful products. These products are then sent to markets where they will be used as transportation fuels, or converted into other products like fertilizers, plastics, and even pharmaceuticals.
The United States is the world’s largest combined producer of oil and natural gas. Most of these fuels are consumed domestically, but growing production means we now have a surplus to sell oil and natural gas to our trading partners around the world. At one point in 2018, the United States was actually a net oil and petroleum exporter, meaning it was exporting more oil and petroleum products than it was importing. The United States is currently on track to become the world’s third largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG), behind only Qatar and Australia. America’s newfound status as a global energy superpower is made possible by pipelines, which deliver the fuels we need for a strong and growing economy.