Gazprom declared 2018 the year of corporate quality, but instead it witnessed a twofold increase in failures at trunk pipeline facilities. The comments of Rostekhnadzor [translator’s note: Federal Service for Environmental, Technological and Nuclear Oversight of Russia] lead us to the conclusion that with the construction of new ultra-modern gas pipelines, existing forty- and fifty-year-old pipes have been somewhat neglected.

The gas transmission system constitutes the greater part of Gazprom’s assets even though news coverage is typically overwhelmed by production stories. In reality, the transmission business accounts for two-thirds of investments. The condition of these pipelines therefore reflects the health of the entire corporation. According to some historians, the gas industry has a two-century history in Russia. Since 2010, Gazprom has begun calculating the share of more than 50-year-old pipelines within its transmission infrastructure. The figure was 3% back in 2011. It is now 18%.

If considered in isolation, energy sector emergencies generally have the appearance of relatively minor events. They erupt in news feeds but pass quickly, and everyone is happy to forget the mess left behind after the announcement of resumed supplies.

The genre of annual summary, however, enables us to distance ourselves from news reports and see the whole picture. It allows us to establish a link between lower maintenance costs, fewer repaired pipelines, and increasing numbers of failures.

Gazprom has explained its new approach to maintenance as based on the principle of systemic significance and GTS integrity, with repairs of less important elements undertaken in a more casual manner. Nevertheless, this strategy cannot cheat fate. You cannot avoid failures completely, but it is important to minimize damage and casualties.

Failures on trunk pipelines are always spectacular — fire bursts tens of meters into the air, illuminating the sky and heating several kilometers of surrounding land. Hectares of wood are incinerated. Burning gas cannot be extinguished until it burns to the last molecule. The damaged pipeline section (perhaps tens of kilometers in length) is closed, and millions of cubic meters of natural gas burn out. The show continues for several hours.

The question is how to strike a balance between accepting the risk of failures and living with this acceptance.

Our calculations

Interfax recorded eight failures at trunk gas pipeline facilities in 2018, figures confirmed by Rostekhnadzor. “There were eight emergencies at trunk as pipelines in 2018,” the federal agency informed in its reply to Interfax’s request. There was a fire at a gas distribution station in Lipetsk region in December. On the one hand, gas distribution stations – end points of gas pipelines – are maintained by the same units that maintain trunk pipelines. On the other hand, an emergency at a small facility like a gas distribution station is not significant, so we excluded that incident from the annual total in our review.

According to preliminary calculations by Rostekhnadzor, damage from pipeline failures totaled RUR 79.6 million in 2018 against RUR 79 million in 2017. No employees or third parties were injured. No third parties suffered damage.

The first weekend of March saw the first incidents when two pipes leaked simultaneously. It is remarkable to note that five out of eight emergencies registered in 2018 happened on weekends or holidays.

On 3 March at 03:13 Moscow time, Yamburg-Tula-1 pipeline leaked in Pilninsky district, Nizhny Novgorod region. Fire shot 15 meters up, which is as high as a five-floor building.

On 4 March at 15:25 Moscow time, a fire started at Patrovsk-Novopskov back-up trunk pipeline in Voronezh region. Micro fissures appeared on a butt-welded joint, which further led to the destruction of a pipe segment. No in-line inspection of this section had taken place since 2005.

On 9 May at 21:47 Moscow time, Igrim-Serov-Nizhny Tagil trunk pipeline leaked. The pipeline was constructed in 1966. Earlier, the pipeline suffered damage during maintenance, creating a tear in the pipe. Further development of this defect lead to a new failure. After analyzing the work of maintenance staff, Rostekhnadzor concluded that they had breached procedure, resulting in an inaccurate failure risk assessment.

On 28 August at 20:35 Moscow time, a fire started at Ukhta-Torzhok pipeline dating from 1976 in Arkhangelsk region. The pipeline is not equipped with pig traps. Longitudinal cracks associated with stress-corrosion developed in the pipeline due to corrosion and operational load. The operator failed to perform an in-line inspection of the pipe section, Rostekhnadzor explained.

On 4 September at 1:40 Moscow time, the most significant emergency happened, affecting households and businesses. The city of Zheleznogorsk with an 84,000 population and Mikhailovsky Ore Concentration Plant, one of the biggest industrial assets of Alisher Usmanov, remained cut off from gas supplies for almost a day. Constructed in 1976, this branch pipeline had not undergone checks with inline inspection tools for the entire 42 years of its operational lifetime, as it is not equipped with pig traps. In this context, Rostekhnadzor’s recommendation “to hold unscheduled evaluations of employees of the Kursk Local Operations and Maintenance Department for Main Pipelines who are responsible for health and safety at the facility” carried a hint of reproach. After this incident, Gazprom deputy CEO Vitaly Markelov said that the public uproar caused by incidents at branch pipelines was much stronger and subsidiaries were therefore instructed to develop a program committing them to inspect all their small pipelines within a three-year period.

The only failure caused by an external factor happened on 23 September when a third-party excavator damaged the branch pipeline to Kozelsk, Sosensky, Sukhinichi gas distribution station in Kaluga region.

On 24 October at 7:25 Moscow time, Gorky-Center pipeline leaked in the Melenkovsky district of Vladimir region. Flames reached a height of 20 meters and destroyed four hectares of forest.

On 3 November at 17:55 Moscow time, a fire started at Central Asia-Center 2 pipeline not far from Ryazan.

Please find below all available information on incidents at trunk gas pipelines over the past four years reported by Rostekhnadzor.

date/year

Pipeline

Operator

diameter, mm

Year of construction

2014

 

 

 

 

02.04.2014

Chelyabinsk - Petrovsk

GT Ufa

 

1979

19.06.2014

Punga - Vuktyl - Ukhta 1

GT Yugorsk

 

1977

08.07.2014

Torzhok - Dolina

GT Saint Petersburg

1420

1996

28.08.2014

Okhansk - Kirov 1

GT Nizhny Novgorod

 

1981

07.11.2014

Central Asia - Center 3

GT Moscow

 

1977

08.11.2014

Torzhok - Dolina

GT Saint Petersburg

1420

1996

2015

 

 

 

 

02.03.2015

Torzhok - Dolina

GT Saint Petersburg

1420

1996

11.03.2015

Urengoy - Novopskov 1

GT Yugorsk

1420

1984

07.04.2015

branch to Alatyr

GT Nizhny Novgorod

300

1993

12.04.2015

Urengoy - Center 1

GT Yugorsk

1420

1984

29.08.2015

branch to Novonikolaevskaya GDS

GT Krasnodar

219

1996

24.10.2015

Urengoy - Novopskov

GT Samara

1420

1982

17.11.2015

Urengoy - Center 1

GT Yugorsk

1420

1984

2016

 

 

 

 

08.01.2016

Pochinki - Izobilnoe

GT Volgograd

1400

2000

18.02.2016

Orenburg Gas Processing Plant - Sovkhoznoe UGS

GT Yekaterinburg

1020

1977

29.04.2016

Belousovo - KGMO

GT Moscow

800

1965

01.06.2016

Igrim - Serov – Nizhny Tagil

GT Yugorsk

1020

1966

21.06.2016

Yamburg – Yelets -1

GT Yugorsk

1420

1985

03.08.2016

Urengoy - Uzhgorod

GT Yugorsk

1420

1983

08.08.2016

Urengoy - Novopskov

GT Chaykovsky

1420

1982

2017

 

 

 

 

31.03.2017

Compressor Unit #5 Vuktyl Local Operations & Maintenance Department for Main Gas Pipelines

GT Ukhta

150

2006

26.07.2017

Igrim - Serov - Nizhny Tagil

GT Yugorsk

1020

1966

24.08.2017

Yamburg - Tula 1

GT Nizhny Novgorod

1420

1988

20.10.2017

Central Asia - Center - 2

GT Moscow

 

1971

2018

 

 

 

 

03.03.2018

Yamburg - Tula 1

GT Nizhny Novgorod

1 420

 

04.03.2018

Petrovsk - Novopskov

GT Volgograd

1200

1980

09.05.2018

Igrim - Serov - Nizhny Tagil

GT Yugorsk

1020

1966

28.08.2018

Ukhta - Torzhok

GT Ukhta

1220

1976

04.09.2018

branch to Zheleznogorsk

GT Moscow

530

1976

23.09.2018

branch to Kozelsk, Sosensky, Sukhinichi GDS

GT Moscow

250

 

24.10.2018

Gorky - Center

GT Nizhny Novgorod

1200

 

04.11.2018

Central Asia - Center 3

GT Moscow

1200

 

10.12.2018

Khmelinets GDS

GT Moscow

 

 

 

As these figures indicate, 2018 saw a five-year high in terms of pipeline failures. The increase in incidents looks especially striking against 2017, which was the most uneventful over the same five-year period.

Rostekhnadzor’s conclusions

“In most cases, the incidents were caused by loss of piping integrity as a result of physical deterioration, corrosion and stress cracking,” Rostekhnadzor told Interfax. The share of this type of incidents is 88% according to the federal agency (7 out of 8 in 2018).

“It should also be mentioned that all pipelines possessed inspection certificates and positive conclusions from industrial safety experts," added Rostekhnadzor representatives.

“However, non-destructive inspection tools applied to pipelines do not always detect defects of different origin, their nature or scope and cannot ensure accurate calculations regarding the possibility of future failure. Industrial safety expertise based on such inspection results is quite judgmental,” Rostekhnadzor experts explained.

Repairs and money

Gazprom planned to repair 750 km of trunk pipelines in 2018, 3.7 times less compared to a record-high 2809 km in 2006.

The maximum funding for repairs was recorded in 2014 (RUR 60.74 billion) and minimum (in this decade) in 2016 (RUR 23.52 billion).

In 2014, repairs accounted for 6% of capital expenditure under Gazprom’s investment program. In 2018, the figure represented about 1.5%.

Maintenance of line sections of trunk pipelines and expenditures on reconstruction and modernization of gas transmission infrastructure:

 

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

Trunk pipeline maintenance, km

750

810

823

1441

1581

1819

2487

2437

2427

2384

2756

2697

2809

2167

Maintenance cost, RUR bn.

24,08

24,77

23,52

41,96

60,74

45,44

28,49

84,27

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gazprom comment

In 2013, the overhaul of the gas transmission system received a boost with the creation of an overhaul department. Last autumn, Sergey Skrynnikov, who has served as head of Department #338 since 2017, gave an interview to The Gas Industry journal where he explained the company’s new approach to repairs.

“The differentiation of equipment based on its condition and impact on the company’s over financial result is a key element of the management system for inspection, maintenance and repairs. This is necessary to formally prioritize and rank expenditures and to develop repair and maintenance approaches to different categories of equipment,” he said.

Skrynnikov added another important remark regarding maintenance priorities: “The prioritization system is only effective if there is an adequate comparison of equipment units in terms of their value for the company, in our case for each company of Gazprom group. When making an assessment or classification, it is always difficult to see the whole picture from the company’s perspective. For instance, a piece of equipment that is critical for a particular segment could be less important for the company as a whole.” Predictably, Western partners are top priority. “In the current economic and foreign-policy conditions, Gazprom is facing the urgent need to improve its operational efficiency.”

“A key optimization issue is to produce a list of priorities for the implementation of the production program in light of budget and time limitations. Increasingly obsolete equipment and the increase in fixed assets due to Gazprom’s investment program require a new approach to inspection, maintenance and repair costs. Some expenditure items under the current management system for inspection, maintenance and repairs lead to inefficient use of funds, which prevents transforming costs into production indicators,” said the head of Department #338.

Future

Strategically (these approaches have been applied at Gazprom’s refineries), the company is not just trying to increase the MTBF of its equipment, but also to switch to condition-monitored maintenance.

A two-year maintenance cycle was piloted at Gazprom Neftekhim Salavat refinery and recommended for further dissemination. Advantages include lower maintenance costs, higher profit due to shorter maintenance down time, introduction of new methods for equipment performance monitoring, and lower failure rate.

Condition-monitored maintenance becomes more and more popular. This is applicable to equipment that is subject to inspection and monitoring over its entire service life. This method requires a huge amount of monitoring and control systems incorporated into the equipment, including vibration meters for rotating equipment, lubricant control (level and solid particle content), wall thickness control for pipelines and reservoirs under pressure, temperature control, and insulation-resistance testers for power lines and equipment.

Unexpected benefits

Starting from autumn 2018, all comments of regional gas transmission branches regarding the consequences of failures included the following phrase: “No casualties or destruction due to the trunk pipeline protected zone.”

Gas industry professionals often use this propaganda refrain to remind summer cottage owners who are dissatisfied with demolition orders of the safety laws for the gas industry.