18 Dec /12

Geohazards – is just controlling the uncontrollable

The frontiers of the oil and gas industry are inhospitable places. Alaska, Canada, and the North Sea will surely continue to be important productions sites and future frontiers, such as the Arctic, pose even greater challenges for men and machinery. The Amauligak field in the Canadian Beaufort Sea for instance offers shallow water oil and gas but is surrounded by an almost year-round sea of ice that requires ice-breaking tankers to transport the extracted oil to North American refineries. Europe’s biggest gas liquefaction plant in Hammerfest, Norway faces challenges of another sort. Here salt laden air and extreme winds not only force crews to wear facemasks against frostbite, but also turn the maintenance of the exposed pipes of the liquefaction plant into a year round project.

In order to access onshore or offshore deposits in these remote regions, pipelines must traverse extreme terrains that are associated with a range of geohazards such as unstable seabeds, rugged topography, river migrations, soil erosion, and seismic activity. Compounded by often extreme climates, these natural phenomena create potentially dangerous situations for both the crews on site as well as the environment surrounding the extraction side and the pipeline.

Obviously it is impossible to guard operation entirely against the risks and dangers associated with geohazards. However, the progress the industry has made in the last decade or so is truly remarkable. If at the start of the 2000s, about 10% of all incidents affecting regulated oil and gas pipelines were caused by geohazards, improved geohazard management practice has reduced the number by more than 60% in 2011. The progress made in the reduction of damage relating to geohazards can be attributed to two factors. First, new and improved pipeline technologies and installation procedures help prevent the pipelines from rupturing. Increased pipe thickness and employment of special materials as well installation of supporting piers and flexible joints aid to reduce pipe/soil friction and can therefore extend the life of pipeline in geohazardous terrain. Secondly, operators have stepped up the investment in risk assessment and maintenance procedures. Prior to pipeline installation, assessment of geohazards calculate the cost/risk ratio of a pipeline and often employ a whole array of specialized tests, which include but are not limited to topographic and tectonic surveys, seismological and geotechnical studies, seismic slope stability assessments and amplification studies. Once the pipeline has been constructed, routine inspections and continual monitoring of the terrain through professional geoscientists can reveal early signs of seismic activity or other geohazards, thus allowing the operating company to make necessary adjustments.

These measures relating to geohazards might seem costly at first glance. Yet a closer look at the damage a geohazard can inflict on an operation reveals the advantage of investing up front into sound risk assessments and expert maintenance. Accidents like the Deepwater Horizon spill cause large scale devastation on equipment and environment as well as long periods of service disruption. In conjunction with fines, court settlements and the loss in revenue and reputation the costs financial burden accrued through a geohazard disaster exceed the cost for sound assessment and maintenance many times over.

If you are a company involved in pipeline planning, construction, and maintenance, EVS Translations can help you produce accurate risk assessments in every language.

As an FPAL-registered translation company, with more than twenty years of experience and over 100 in-house employees, our areas of competence cover:

  • Geological examination, seismic tests, geophysical and geotechnical logs
  • Geohazard factors analysis and safety measures
  • Environmental impact assessment (EIA)
  • Social impact assessment (SIA)
  • Environmental Compliance Audits
  • Design/well templates
  • Reservoir studies
  • Well development planning
  • Drilling programs and expedition reports