Maximizing Capital Budgets Extending Useful Life Pipelines
Water utilities across the United States face a major funding gap related to buried pipeline infrastructure. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates the difference between what is needed for infrastructure renewal and what utilities can afford to spend is between $200 billion and $1 trillion over the next 25 years. An increased number of pipeline failures that disrupt everyday life and are expensive to mitigate is adding additional scrutiny despite the fact that many utilities do not have sufficient funding to implement traditional pipeline management strategies to renew or replace their aging infrastructure.
This new reality has forced utilities to squeeze more remaining life out of existing assets, creating more demand for condition assessment programs and proactive management of pipelines. Historically, there have been a few specialized firms that respond to high profile failures; however, the recognition of the value and implementation of condition assessment programs by many utilities has made pipeline management a significant industry. This has resulted in many utilities successfully managing risk and extending the life of assets for a fraction of the cost of a replacement program.
According to a study by Pure Technologies, large diameter pressure pipe can be inspected, repaired and managed for roughly 4 percent of the capital replacement cost. Pure has found that pipeline distress is typically not systematic across the entire length of a pipeline, but is usually related to localized problems due to design, manufacturing, installation, environmental, operational or maintenance factors. Proactively locating and repairing specific pipe sections with distress is proving to be a cost-effective method of addressing the infrastructure gap associated with buried pipelines.
As utilities move toward condition assessment programs that focus on entire transmission or distribution systems, it is clear that there is no single condition assessment strategy that works for all pipelines. Several variables affect which strategies and technologies should be used to assess a given pipeline, including likelihood of failure, consequence of failure, pipe material, and available budget.
Proactive utilities have realized that when implementing condition assessment for a system of pipelines, a risk-based approach should be used to ensure resources are invested in an intelligent manner that maximizes the benefit of a program.