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The pipeline revolution is just getting started

Dec 28, 2020
5 min read
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By: Mohammed Anwar Parvez and Gusai H. AlAithan, Aramco

It should come as no surprise that demand for non-metallic piping is increasing in the energy industry. Non-metallic piping tends to be lighter than conventional metal, has superior corrosion resistance, and reduces the need for energy-intensive replacement processes. Its carbon footprint is around 30 per cent smaller than that of carbon steel. For many years, Aramco has been a pioneer in this field - leveraging its extensive hydrocarbon resources and technology leadership to develop and deliver non-metallic solutions across the oil and gas industry. A study conducted by Boston Consulting Group indicates the global deployment of non-metallic pipes is now rising steadily - and Aramco estimates demand for Reinforced Thermoplastic Pipes (RTP) across the GCC will register an annual compound growth rate of 9.5 per cent until 2030. 

Accordingly, the Company is working with local and international suppliers and research institutes to accelerate development and deployment of non-metallic piping solutions, launching a Non-metallic Road Map to drive industry advancements, with a key goal being to reduce the annual cost of corrosion by 10 per cent across Aramco’s entire flow line network. Mainly constructed from carbon steel, Aramco’s current pipeline network - just like those of other oil and gas companies - has been susceptible to corrosion because of exposure to corrosive components like hydrogen sulfide (H2S), carbon dioxide (CO2) and even bacteria in some cases. The benefits of RTP as an alternative to traditional metallic materials, including its reliability, ruggedness and installation efficiency, has inspired Aramco to lay more than 8,800 km of non-metallic pipeline for oil and gas projects since 2016 – and the Company is continuing to expand deployment across its network. 

Expanding the operating envelope

Building on the success of using RTP in crude oil applications, Aramco introduced 6” RTP nonmetallic pipe at its Hawiyah gas well in 2018 and expanded the utilization of RTP in conventional gas, after realizing significant cost savings at Hawiyah. In addition, the Company is currently piloting the use of 8” steel-reinforced RTP in sweet conventional oil and gas, which will potentially unlock more applications across the network.

More than 750 km of spoolable RTP was deployed in gas and condensate services as part of Aramco’s unconventional program. The use of spoolable RTP was a breakthrough as spoolable RTP eliminates hot work, welding, coating and the need for cathodic protection. In addition, it can be reclaimed and used elsewhere - making it a more sustainable choice. Spoolable RTP products were also used as part of the Company’s rehabilitation program at multiple sites. 

The Company is deploying cost-effective, high-temperature RTP in hydrocarbon applications, and has successfully expanded the RTP temperature capacity from 180 F to 221 F. The higher temperature capacity enables more utilization of RTP to transport fluids extracted directly from the higher temperature reservoir. 

Aramco has worked with a leading RTP manufacturer to become the first energy company to expand the design pressure for steel-reinforced RTP (s-RTP) to 3000 pounds per square inch gauge (psig) at a temperature of 194 F for water applications. The first deployment was for a 6” pipe diameter, which was recently extended to an 8” pipe diameter in 2019. Through working with industry leaders and by utilising carbon fiber as a reinforcement, the Company is planning to further expand the RTP application to 10” diameter by 2024. 

Reaping the benefits of non-metallics

RTP is resistant to corrosive environments such as high H2S, CO2 content and sour water, making it more durable than steel pipe in environments where these agents are present. It provides a longer lifespan for the entire piping system while offering the potential to reduce costs associated with maintenance and corrosion control. RTP is estimated to be more economical than carbon steel when measuring the incremental net present value over the life cycle of the pipe.  

In our experience, the installation process for RTP requires less manpower and is less time consuming compared to metallic alternatives. One kilometer of RTP can be transported by a single truck, whereas for carbon steel several trucks would be required. In addition, the construction activities do not involve welding or any other hot work as the pipes can be spooled together. It takes only one day to deploy 1 km of RTP, compared to about a month for a carbon steel pipe. All this makes for a less energy-intensive installation process, and in turn a lower carbon footprint. 

In addition, the use of RTP is a cost-effective enabler for Aramco’s zero-flaring initiative. RTP has also been used to recover and reinject gas and associated condensate produced during gas wells cleanup activities into the nearest production line. Since the process of cleaning wells is short and infrequent, building conventional carbon steel pipelines is neither practical nor economical. RTP, on the other hand, can be respooled and redeployed at other wells. 

Unlocking growth opportunities in non-metallic materials is aligned with Aramco’s long-term strategy to expand its Downstream business. The Company continues to leverage its In Kingdom Total Value Add program (iktva) and localisation efforts to strengthen the non-metallic supply chain in Saudi Arabia, which has encouraged a number of RTP manufactures to invest in the country. Only recently, the Company announced the formation of Novel Non-Metallic Solutions Manufacturing, a Joint Venture with Baker Hughes that will be located in King Salman Energy Park (SPARK). It is expected to start production in the first quarter of 2022 with a production capacity of 1,000 KM of RTP annually. Localising the production of non-metallic materials not only supports the local economy, it also improves supply chain reliability and efficiency.