May 2019, Vol. 246, No. 5


Opinion: Sub-Standard Pipe Torpedoing Basin Projects

By: Tony Radoszewski, President, The Plastics Pipe Institute, Inc.

The boom is on in the basin and other areas. That’s the good news. The bad news is that this year, sub-standard plastic pipe has been found in the oil and gas gathering operations of the Permian and Delaware basins in Texas and New Mexico. Specifically, this is high-density polyethylene (HDPE) pipe that does not comply with the relevant product industry standards.

These pipelines are generally used to supply and take away water from the drilling site and move hydrocarbons when feasible. Some are not marked in accordance with the relevant product standard requirements and may not comply with those product standards. 

Pipe that is not properly marked or certified provides no assurance of product quality and may not perform as intended for the application. Our concern extends to other areas where HDPE pipe is widely used such as potable water, forced main sewers, industrial, and mining applications. 

In some cases, neither the manufacturer nor the origin of the pipe could be identified. A properly marked HDPE pipe includes relevant standards on the pipe’s printline to identify piping materials that meet specific standards, and to help confirm that the pipe is suitable for its intended purpose.

But this cannot be relied upon by itself as a printline is no guarantee of the quality of the pipe. There are other end-user validation points such as certificates of quality from the manufacturer, on-site inspections of the plant, and an array of short-term physical property and mechanical tests and measurements on produced pipe to verify pipe quality.

Pipe manufacturers can participate in the quality systems established in the industry to ensure pipe performs as expected. This starts with a TR-4 listing in the Plastics Pipe Institute Hydrostatic Stress Board (HSB) program that includes the pipe’s recommended hydrostatic design basis (HDB), strength design basis (SDB), pressure design basis (PDB) or minimum required strength (MRS) rating. 

The tests, protocols and methodologies developed by the HSB speak to the integrity of the pipe and materials so that systems using PE pipe can be designed with confidence. Additionally, we recommend unannounced random audits conducted by an applicable certifying body. 

Acceptance of any pipe that does not comply with these standards could cause unintended consequences that jeopardize the safety of employees, the affected public and the environment. We encourage operators to inspect the piping products upon delivery to ensure it meets not only the appropriate product standards but also those within the operator’s specifications. 

This is especially critical for projects in demanding oil and gas field operations and is also important for pipe used in other pressure applications such as water, sewer, industrial, and mining applications.

Here’s what to look for in the field: 

Pipe produced and tested to the latest editions of ASTM F2619 and/or API 15LE.

Identify key markings – does the print line contain at a minimum the manufacturer’s name or trademark, material designation, standard produced to, manufacture lot code, dimensions and ratings.

Inspect for damage, dimensions (outside diameter and wall thickness), discoloration, roundness, outside surface finish.

Verify field fusion quality by making and testing a trial fusion and conducting a Bend Back test per ASTM F2620 or a guided side bend test per ASTM F3183.

PPI members are now involved in developing a model specification document that will aid in the selection of quality HDPE pipe and fittings for oil and gas applications. 

In the past, PPI and its member companies have participated in the ANSI consensus processes that led to the development of several national standards, including e.g., ASTM D2513, ASTM F2619 and API 15LE. These standards prescribe rigid materials qualification and testing requirements for HDPE pipe to ensure that plastic piping materials meet the performance requirements of demanding applications in oil and gas field operations. 

Additionally, these standards require that the relevant standard be referenced on the pipe’s printline, so that users should be able to readily identify piping materials that meet the standards and be assured that the pipe that they purchase is suitable for its intended purpose. 

The association also recommends that purchasers review the pipe manufacturer’s certification reports along with physical plant inspections or independent third-party validation.

There is time, effort and labor needed to, number one, develop the standards and, number two, to produce product that will meet those standards. Not all HDPE pipe is created equally. Know what resin is being used in the manufacture of the pipe. Know what company is making the pipe. Know what company is selling the pipe. There is a considerable investment for the resin manufacturer and the pipe manufacturer to produce high-performance products. 

Unfortunately, due to the quickly rising demand for HDPE pipe we’re seeing an influx of imported and even some domestic products that do not abide by our industry standards. 

There is a cost for quality because of the steps required from the manufacturing of the plastic resin to the extrusion of the pipe in order to produce a product that meets industry standards and regulations. But the benefits outweigh the extra cost. No one wants a catastrophic pipeline failure caused by substandard pipe, especially in fracking operations. 

HDPE pipe brings water used for hydraulic fracturing starting with water acquisition through chemical mixing at the well pad site, injection of fracking fluids, and collection, treatment, and disposal of wastewater. 

Highly durable and leak-free plastic pipe systems used in this state-of-the art process prove to be an invaluable component in protecting the environment, and therefore it is imperative that the pipe is genuine. An EPA report identifies potential vulnerabilities to drinking water resources, some of which are not specifically related to hydraulic fracturing. 

These include water extractions in areas with low availability of water, fracking operations conducted directly into formations with drinking water resources, wells that are cased or cemented inadequately or untreated wastewater discharged into drinking water resources, and spillage of hydraulic fluids and wastewater. Again, more imperative reasons why HDPE pipe cannot fail or be of sub-standard grade in the oil patch.

With fresh and recycled water streaming in just at the rate of millions of gallons a day and leaving the area as highly brackish produced water or flowback, the integrity of the HDPE pipe and its fused joints is critical. 

The Plastics Pipe Institute, Inc. (PPI) is the major North American trade association representing all segments of the plastic pipe industry. It is dedicated to promoting plastic as the materials of choice for pipe and conduit applications. P&GJ


Author: Tony Radoszewski, is president of the Plastics Pipe Institute, Inc., the major North American trade association representing all segments of the plastic pipe industry. He is a 35-year veteran of the industry, including leadership positions in at Phillips 66 Company/Phillips Driscopipe, now part of the Performance Pipe Division of Chevron Phillips.

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