For a long and healthy life, take good care of your arteries – this applies to medicine as well as to energy infrastructure. Oil and gas pipelines are the arteries supplying energy to millions of consumers. They have to be cared for to ensure they function reliably, every day. Effective integrity management and a comprehensive maintenance strategy are the basis for the safe operation of these lifelines.
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The Nord Stream pipeline through the Baltic Sea is a project that set new benchmarks for the industry. The project company was established to plan and construct the pipeline 10 years ago; gas transport started in 2011. Nord Stream is the world’s longest offshore pipeline. Over a distance of 1224 km, it transports natural gas from Russia to Europe without intermediate compression. The pipeline has three sections with different wall thicknesses to account for the decreasing pressure of the natural gas over this long distance. With an annual transport capacity of 55 billion m3, Nord Stream is a significant gas import pipeline for the European market. It is crucial that it is maintained effectively.
Integrity management has been in place from the start of the pipeline’s construction and it remains a top priority now the gas is flowing. Regular checks and maintenance will continue throughout the envisaged 50 year operating life. Whilst we hope and anticipate that there will be no major incidents over the pipeline’s lifetime, our integrity management approach allows us to be prepared for any eventuality.In our day to day operation, and in our approach to integrity management, we work by three principles: be prepared, aim to be best-in-class, and go above and beyond what is required by law. We want to continue setting benchmarks in our industry.
We have communicated transparently with many different stakeholders from the start of the project. The standards and commitment we applied during the permitting process of the project continues during operations. We comply with international and national legislation and codes, and co-operate closely with the renowned certifying body DNV GL. Their certificate, which we have held for four years and that we maintain during operations, documents that we are meeting the highest safety standards. Incident scenarios and suitable repair measures have been defined. The steps for reacting to repair scenarios have been prepared and presented to all relevant authorities. The diligent planning and preparation that we undertake today should not only help to minimise the likelihood of incidents, but also save time and get the pipeline back operating normally as fast as possible if an incident does arise.
The Nord Stream pipeline integrity concept guarantees the reliability, availability and safety of the gas transportation system. External inspection of the Nord Stream pipeline is a large-scale project and one of the most complex in existence. The internal inspection is equally challenging. Preventive maintenance activities are performed on both landfalls. Annual maintenance shutdowns are planned a long time before they take place with all upstream and downstream partners.
The project’s unique scale and specification makes incident preparedness particularly challenging, but we worked closely with expert suppliers to step up to the task. Nord Stream requires specialised repair tools, which cannot be easily loaned from standard resource pools in the event of an incident. Given the long lead times on production, we contracted specialised partners to custom-build the engineered items needed in the event of a repair. Some of them, such as the repair clamp, were so unique in terms of their size and specifications that the contractors involved had to adapt and innovate to develop suitable equipment. Should they ever be needed, these tools are ready and available to ensure a swift repair, minimising expensive downtime and ensuring reliable gas flow.
Keeping our arteries healthy is about a lifetime of good care. The same is true for pipelines. We are not just developing tools that can fix problems, we invest in ongoing preparedness and maintenance to ensure the pipeline remains in good working order, every day, delivering safe and reliable gas flow to consumers in Europe.