From the LawDog Files…
“Hail Mary, full of grace …”
Ok, the Nord pipeline incidents.
Sigh. I shouldn’t do this, but …
I call them “incidents” for a reason. I grew up in overseas oilfields. I try to, by training, observe everything from as objectively neutral a viewpoint as possible.
In my experience when anything involving energy-industry hydrocarbons explodes … well, sabotage isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. And honestly, when it comes to a pipeline running natural gas under Russian (non)maintenance, an explosion means that it’s Tuesday. Or Friday. Or another day of the week ending in “y”.
“But, LawDog,” I hear you say, “It was multiple explosions!”
Yes, 17 hours apart. No military is going to arrange for two pipes in the same general area to be destroyed 17 hours apart. Not without some Spec Ops guy having a fit of apoplexy. One pipe goes up in a busy shipping lane, in a busy sea, and everyone takes notice. Then you wait 17 hours to do the second — with 17 hours for people to show up and catch you running dirty? Nah, not buying it.
The Nord pipelines weren’t in use. To me, that means it’s time for maintenance! Hard to maintain pipes when product is flowing.
Pipelines running methane, under saltwater, require PMCS* quicker than you’d think, and more often than you’d believe.
That hooked me. And LawDog, with his humorous writing style, delivers a terrific piece. Here’s more about what I teased in the headline…
However, in this case involving a natural gas pipeline under the pressure of 300 to 360 feet (8 atmospheres to 10 atm.) of water, I’d like you to turn your eyes towards a fun little quirk of nature called “methane hydrates”.
Well, actually, I’d like you to meditate upon “hydrate plug”, but give me a moment.
Under certain circumstances of pressure, temperature, and water presence natural gas/methane will form solid hydrates, with concomitant amounts of fun.
For the Chinese definition of fun, anyway.
Keeping hydrates from forming is a constant battle, requiring vigilance, expertise, diligence, and constant water removal. If any of these things slack at any time — you’re getting hydrate formation.
The presence of solid hydrates in a pipeline can cause flow issues (causing cracks), destabilize the pipe itself (more cracks), and cause fires (bad. Very Bad), but the big issue (pun intended) is when you form enough hydrates that it blocks the pipe entirely (see: Hydrate plug, above).
A hydrate plug is one massive pain in the tuchkiss to remove, and removal of said hydrate plugs is not a task to be undertaken by idiots, rank amateurs, morons, the terminally unlucky, or stupid people.
The Recommended Best Practice to clear a hydrate plug is a vvveeerryyy slllooowww depressurisation from BOTH ENDS, SIMULTANEOUSLY.
How slowly, you ask? For a pipeline the size of Nordstream we’re talking weeks.
As the line reaches local atmospheric pressure heat is transferred to the plug from the environment, and the plug begins to melt, starting at the plug/wall interface.
However, if you are a national gas company with institutional paranoia, a Nationalised aversion to looking weak or asking for help, and a Good Idea Fairy fueled by vodka — well, you can depressurise the pipe from one end.
Go read it. Yeah, it’s long. Pour yourself a drink, get comfy and read it. You’ll be a smarter person afterwards.
Maybe now we know why Russia didn’t react to the Nordstream pipelines busting open by slicing up one of the transatlantic internet cables…
And you could spend worse time than reading LawDog’s other entries. Start here. Prepare to laugh out loud. I wish I had a tenth of his writing talent.