February 2023, Vol. 250, No. 2

Guest Perspective

Guest Perspective: Plastic Pipe Regulations, Rules and Results

By Randy Knapp, Director of Engineering, Energy Piping Systems Division, Plastics Pipe Institute, Inc. (PPI) 

(P&GJ) — The continued increase in oil and gas output is relying more and more on spoolable reinforced plastic pipe and polyethylene (PE) line pipe. This is due to the high integrity of the pipe itself, and ease of installation. Additionally, PE pipes are easily joined by heat fusion forming a monolithic system that eliminates the potential for leaks at the joints.

In the case of composite piping, a key advantage is its ability to be delivered to the field on reels that can contain thousands of feet of pipe. And because spoolable composites can run for thousands of feet before a fitting has to be put in, this leads to faster and safer installation with a high degree of integrity.  

Our manufacturing members tell us that reports from the field show that spoolable pipe installs in 40% to 80% of the time needed for welded steel and with a lower installed cost that can be as much as a 65% savings. Plus, welding, on-site fabrication and coating is eliminated. Installation methods run the gamut from trench to trenchless, and diameters up to eight inches. 

Updated standard, API 15S, and new recommended practices – API 15SA, 15S-IH have been approved that address not only the proper installation methods, but also the manufacturing and integrity management of composite plastic pipe. 

Just a few months ago, the American Petroleum Institute published its latest edition of      API 15LE that covers polyethylene (PE) line pipe used for the production and transportation of oil, gas, mixed-phase fluids, and non-potable water. The piping is often used to safely transport frack water to and from the wellhead. 

The one standard that targets integrity management for spoolable composites is 15SA. It’s specific to the integrity management of an existing API 15S assets including threat identification, identification of potential failure modes, risk assessment, testing requirements, initial and ongoing inspection practices, end-fitting and coupling inspection, potential mitigations, repair, and associated documentation. 

API 15S-IH is for the handling of spoolable compartments, providing all the information necessary to effectively  install the products and do it in a safe manner.  

Earlier this year, the 3rd edition of API 15S standard that's used by all the composite manufacturers to produce spoolable reinforced plastic pipe of up to 8 inches in diameter and pressures of up to 3,000 psi and maximum temperatures of 200 degrees F, was published.  

This specification provides requirements for the manufacture and qualification of spoolable reinforced plastic line pipe in oilfield and energy applications including transport of multiphase fluids, hydrocarbon gases, hydrocarbon liquids, oilfield production chemicals, and non-potable water.  

The most common types of spoolable pipe are reinforced thermoplastic pipe (RTP) and flexible composite pipe (FCP). These products consist of a liner with helically wrapped steel or nonmetallic reinforcing elements and an outer cover. High-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polyamide (PA) are among the most used liner and outer cover materials. Pressure ratings can normally above the 200 psi range and can be as high as 3,000 psi. 

The gas distribution industry and regulatory bodies have recognized that the best way to reduce methane emissions is to replace old pipes that are prone to leakage. Doing so also improves the safety of the system at the same time. Regulators of gas gathering systems are now requiring a lot more reporting from operators on how much methane is released, whether it's in their operations or vented due to a lack of piping capacity.  

Operators are working hard to dramatically curb venting, but more piping capacity is needed to carry away natural gas from a wellhead. According to AP News, the EPA is planning to expand its 2021 methane emissions rule to require oil and natural gas companies to address methane leaks at all drilling sites, including smaller wells. 

Protecting the environment is paramount. Responsibly sourced gas (RSG) or certified gas is becoming a real hot topic, with operating companies having to use a third party to confirm that an operation is working in an environmentally friendly way and that they are below a certain threshold for methane emissions intensity and other environmental performance factors.  

They actually continuously monitor emissions through ground-based equipment, fly-overs and satellite assessments, to ensure an operator is practicing fresh water stewardship, and mitigating methane leaks. Plastic pipe has a solid history of being the environmentally responsible choice. Spoolable pipe has a long life, beneficial life cycle, provides for a pipeline with excellent reliability, can stand up to tough environments including hazardous liquids and high pH levels and is lower in greenhouse gas emissions than traditional products.  

Although easy to install, it is imperative that skilled crews install systems. It’s a critical factor for the energy industry. Many companies find it increasingly difficult to hire people with the right skill set which makes training more important than ever. 

To help the industry better understand the complexities of the new standards, PPI has established a focus on HDPE, polyamides (PA-11 and PA-12), and composite pipes, all of which are being used more in the rapid expansion of oil and gas gathering activities in shale plays across the country.  

There is no room for failure of this critical infrastructure because pressures in an HDPE pipeline can reach 300 psi and temperatures up to 180 degrees F. For projects using composite pipe, pressures can reach well over 1,500 psi and higher. 

The importance of knowing how to design and install pipelines that carry oil and gas, and transport water to and from a fracking site continues to grow every day. Our in-person seminars delivered in key producing regions provide the necessary background to install these systems and also provide hands-on fusion training, which is critical to the performance of a PE and PA pipelines. Additionally, we have the PPI eLearn channel with on-line training courses. 

The Introduction to Polyethylene Piping for Oil and Gas course provides a broad overview of PE piping used in oil & gas applications and covers basic material properties, manufacturing, codes and standards, joining, and installation & handling. We will soon add two new online courses: Introduction to Composite Piping and Isolation Methods for Polyethylene. 

Our members, who voluntarily provide their expertise and firsthand knowledge, will continue to participate in our efforts to educate the industry and regulators to understand the benefits of plastic piping in gas gathering systems and to recognize composite piping in the federal code. These updated and new API standards are an important step to that goal. 

The PPI eLearn channel can be found at www.elearn.plasticpipe.org. Additional  information can be found at www.plasticpipe.org/EnergyPipingSystems

The Plastics Pipe Institute, Inc. (PPI) is the major North American trade association representing the plastic pipe industry and is dedicated to promoting plastic as the materials of choice for pipe and conduit applications. PPI is the premier technical, engineering and industry knowledge resource publishing data for use in the development and design of plastic pipe and conduit systems. Additionally, PPI collaborates with industry organizations that set standards for manufacturing practices and installation methods. 


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