How drought popped this pipeline’s joints

How drought popped this pipeline’s joints

27 August 2019

Are you thinking about replacing your existing pipeline with polyethylene?

Well, here’s a story that you’ll find useful.  It’s a true story. It will show you why maintenance surprises don’t always come from the places you expect.

From GRP to Polyethylene, but not because it was planned.

In 2018-19, as Australia found herself in the grip of a significant drought, a large mine in NSW near Broken Hill NSW found itself with an unusual problem.

The mine has a large water transfer line. By large, I mean that the pipe itself is about 500 mm in diameter. It was originally constructed from GRP, which is rubber ring glass-reinforced polymer. Installing this pipeline was a relatively simple matter, because GRP simply requires you to push the rubber joints together. It reduced the cost of installation, saving the mine hundreds of thousands of dollars.

What they didn’t bargain for was what would happen in a drought situation, as they’re facing now. Conditions are so dry, and the water table has dropped so far, that the ground has shrunk. If you’re familiar with drought conditions in Australia, you know yourself that this results in cracks at the surface.

What happens underneath turned out to be a real pain.

In case of this water transfer line, the dry conditions pulled the joints apart

This mine’s maintenance team is now facing pipeline failure on a weekly basis. When the failures occur, the team needs to dig a six-metre hole to expose the pipe, and then put in two repair joints. They eventually want to replace the entire pipeline with polyethylene, fully welded from end-to-end. That way, they will never have to worry about leaks.

But in the interim, they are putting in short, six-metre sections. They’re in reactive mode, trying to solve problems as they occur week-to-week.

The repaired sections are between three and six metres in length, flanged, and with an adaption cup on each end. Eventually, they’ll have a pipeline with a million repairs in it. And a million repairs means a million places where it can still go wrong.

Conditions are always subject to change

In this particular mine, what the design engineers didn’t allow for was a situation of extreme drought, or the drop in the water table, which, many years later, created pipeline issues. The mine is literally fighting a losing battle as joints pop open everywhere.

As you might have guessed, one of the overriding factors in installing this particular type of pipeline was cost: The savings on installation were significant. Now? The mine is facing a replacement cost running into the millions, because of this unforeseen impact.

We are working closely with the mine to help them stay up and running as much as possible, for as long as possible, despite the necessary replacements they’re having to undertake.

In Summary

Whether you are repairing and maintaining a pipeline, or working on pipeline design, do whatever you can to prevent surprises down the track. In cases like the pipeline described above, a higher initial outlay can prevent massive, unexpected costs down the track.

Do you know all the ways you can prevent surprises on your pipeline?

If the answer is no, add yourself to our email list. We’ll send you occasional emails with useful information, offers that will simplify and streamline your maintenance program, and keep your pipeline flowing: join out mailing list today.

When you need focused help fast, get it from a supplier whose success is keeping your plant moving. Call Advanced Piping Systems now on 1300 792 879.

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