March 2018, Vol. 245, No. 3


Selecting the Right Onshore Pipeline Coating System

By Chris O’Connor and Richard Bailey, DNV GL, Oil & Gas
DNV GL’s study reveals that nearly a third of respondents believe not enough has been invested in refurbishing/replacing onshore pipelines in their region.

New research by DNV GL, a technical advisor to the oil and gas industry, shows an increased expectation for the approval of new offshore pipeline projects over the next three years, up from 27% in 2017 to 38% this year. Just over a third of those surveyed (35%) anticipate new pipeline projects onshore, a figure which has remained unchanged since last year.

Confidence And Control: The Outlook for the Oil and Gas Industry in 2018 is DNV GL’s eighth annual report providing a snapshot of industry confidence, priorities and concerns for the year ahead.

It reveals an imminent turnaround in spending on research and development (R&D) and innovation after three years of cuts and freezes.

The study also reveals that nearly a third (32%) of respondents believe not enough has been invested in refurbishing/replacing onshore pipelines in their region. This opinion strongly advocates the need to select an anti-corrosion coating system that closely matches operators’ specific needs.

The financial and reputational cost of failure can be high, a fact reflected in the global market value for on- and offshore pipeline coatings across all industries, which Research and Markets recently estimated to be worth nearly $12 billion by 2020.

The positive benefits of using the best corrosion protection coating for the job are potentially: lower pipeline inspection, repair and maintenance costs; improved safety and environmental sustainability; and, pipeline lifetime optimization.

Expanded Choice

Onshore pipeline coatings have evolved substantially in response to demand from pipeline operators transporting oil and gas from and across more challenging and remoter environments and terrains.

Coal tar enamel (CTE) and asphalt (bitumen) were the first-generation material of choice in the 1940s, and the widening of coatings options since then includes second- and third-generation systems introduced since the mid-1980s (Figure 1).

Figure 1 DNV GL March 18

Figure 1: Pipeline coating developments since 1940

New coatings systems involve novel application techniques to extend the design lives and performance of components they are intended to protect. Operators are therefore confronted by a wider range of choices and need to look carefully beyond developers’ and manufacturers’ technical information and marketing claims to be sure of selecting the best coating for their specific requirements.

No Perfect System 

In an ideal coating system, key criteria for selection would be met perfectly. These include adhesion of the system to the pipe; applicability; chemical and thermal stability; mechanical properties; and, economics (Figure 2).

Figure 2 DNV GL March 18

Figure 2: The ideal pipeline coating would meet all selection criteria perfectly

Second- and third-generation coatings have removed or reduced some problems associated with the first generation, including:

  • significantly reducing stress corrosion cracking (SCC) as one main threat to pipeline integrity
  • alleviating microbially-influenced corrosion (MIC)
  • eliminating thermo-mechanical coating degradation
  • reducing the level of coating damage sustained and hence in the current needed for cathodic protection
  • created the ability to fully integrate the pipeline coating system

A wide variety of materials is used for coating and wrapping pipework and fittings. All have different functionality, though the key function is to prevent corrosion. Therefore, despite advances, there is no such thing as an ideal coating for all purposes.

Problems with Onshore Pipeline Coatings

Reasons for failure of coatings since the 1940s include: application problems; biological attack and MIC; induced alternating current (AC) interference and stray direct current (DC) interference; mechanical resistance; thermo-mechanical properties; SCC; and, stress cracking of polyethylene (PE) coatings.

Most problems have been with first-generation and early second-generation coatings. New generations of coatings are generally better than older ones. However, some pipeline operators still use first-generation coatings such as tapes and heat shrink sleeves (HSS) to protect field joint areas, and the new coating materials can also bring their own problems.

Reported issues using second- and third-generation pipeline coatings include:

Increased susceptibility to AC and DC corrosion in areas influenced by induced AC and stray DC interference

The latest three-layer polyethylene (PE) field joint coatings being developed tend to be labour- and time-intensive, making them expensive to apply for onshore applications

Using first-generation coatings – tapes and HSSs – on field joints protected with second- and third-generation mainline coatings can cause susceptibility to MIC, SCC, and thermo-mechanical degradation at the joints

Selection of Coating

Fusion-bonded epoxy (FBE) and polyolefin-based coatings – which include three-layer polypropylene and single-, two-, and three-layer PE – together account for 80% of the global pipeline coating market, according to developers and manufacturers Bredero Shaw.

The use of various systems varies geographically. FBE is a popular choice in North America and for onshore gas transmission pipelines in the U.K., for example. DNV GL’s technical and advisory work on legacy gas tranmission pipelines in the UK confirms that these coating systems have worked without any problems.

Three-layer systems are generally used everywhere for this purpose and though they have proved themselves, there is room for improvement. For example, there are questions around whether adhesion of some three-layer systems to pipelines is as good as it could possibly be. Clearly, standards in the sector need to be of the highest quality to ensure high-quality products that are fit-for-purpose.

Real-Life Conditions

International and national standards exist for the two critical steps in coating a pipeline effectively: technical qualification of the coating, and preparation of the pipe or field joint to ensure the coating will adhere. In addition, DNV GL’s new Recommended Practice DNVGL-RP-F106 for factory applied external pipeline coatings for corrosion control provides a guideline to the specification and execution of coating application work.

Standards evolve alongide the development of coatings and experience in the field, but they can only go so far. Going the extra distance means developing and using defined tests that ensure that a coating will both meet international standards and also do the job expected of it in specific environmental conditions. As for preparing pipes, it is probably the weak link in the coatings application process. Significant development is underway, which is exciting for the market. Qualification of the new products is just as important.

According to DNV GL’s industry outlook research, more than a third (36%) of 813 senior sector players surveyed, expect to increase spending on R&D and innovation in 2018: the highest level recorded in four years.

Independent Advice

The key message is that operators cannot rely purely on procurement departments reading manufacturer’s specifications and claims for coatings. It is good practice to undertake a vigorous, comprehensive review of design criteria including the application, where the system will be used, and the operating environment, such as external abrasion, ground loading stress, impact damage, ground conditions (chemical nature), internal pressure, and temperatures.

While some operators have internal experts on coatings, consulting independent third-party experts can help to reach the right decision objectively.

DNV GL, for example, provides qualification, certification and verification for manufacturers in accordance with accepted procedures. It advises operators on materials selection for coatings; independently reviews and audits coating systems so operators can check fitness-for-purpose; and inspects pipelines during construction.

The company’s global laboratory network conducts coating analysis, testing and qualification, and supports joint industry projects that DNV GL manages for manufacturers and operators.

The report is based on a global survey of 813 senior industry professionals and executives, along with 15 in-depth interviews with a range of experts, business leaders, and analysts. P&GJ

Authors: Chris O’Connor is principal consultant for pipelines technical advisory, U.K. and West Africa, DNV GL – Oil & Gas. Richard Bailey is vice president and director of Division Inspection.

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