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A global perspective on pipeline geohazards

By Moness Rizkalla, Visitless Integrity Assessment Ltd, Calgary, AB, Canada

‘Geohazard’ management practice has advanced considerably in recent years, due to several factors:

global pipeline expansion in areas of difficult terrain, coupled with a greater understanding of the prevalence of geohazards; business and regulatory drivers promoting the proactive management of these hazards; and, an active peer community that is enabled with ever-improving tools to better manage this class of pipeline integrity hazards.

G eohazards’ refer to natural phenomena that threaten man-made structures such as earthquakes,

landsides or floods. With pipelines, the term refers to a wider range of environmental loads and eects, some of which are triggered by the

pipeline’s construction and operations.

When assessing geohazards for an operating or proposed pipeline, compile an inventory of probable geohazards using the following categories:

1. Landslides/mass movement: movements of large volumes of soil, rock or snow including deep seated landslides, slope creep, debris flow and rock falls.

2. Tectonics/seismicity: fault movement and liquefaction.

3. Hydrotechnics: watercourse and water- body hydrodynamics including river bed scour, lateral channel migration and coastal inundation.


• Methodologies of pipeline geohazard assessments

• Data requirements and sources for the assessment of pipeline geohazards

• Innovations of pipeline geohazard monitoring and mitigation.

4. Erosion and upheaval displacement:

transport of soil particles by surface water, groundwater or wind including backfill erosion and right-of-way erosion.

5. Geochemical: soil, rock or groundwater chemistry including karst collapse and acid rock drainage.

6. Freezing of unfrozen ground: freezing of soil and groundwater including frost heave of pipelines and the groundwater flow interruption due to frost bulb development.

7. Thawing of permafrost terrain: thawing of frozen soil and ground ice including pipeline thaw settlement and thawing slope instability.

8. Unique soil structure: potentially detrimental soil characteristics including pipeline indentation due to boulders and cobbles, residual and sensitive soils.

9. Desert mechanisms: desert conditions such as dune migration and flash flooding.

10. Volcanic mechanisms: active volcanoes including ash falls and lahars.

When conducting an assessment, various actions should be undertaken when establishing an inventory of potential pipeline geohazards, including the following.

1. Consider a larger inventory of geohazards during the design, route selection and permitting stage of a pipeline’s life cycle

that may later be focused on a smaller subset to address during operations. Pre-construction route refinements, design mode changes (e.g. localised above-ground installations) and design stage mitigations can avoid, or significantly mitigate, the associated risks of many design-stage geohazards. Frequently, although not globally, landslides, hydrotechnics and tectonics (where applicable) are the targeted geohazard categories during operations.

2. Address the impact of geohazard mechanisms on the ditch and right-of-way (RoW) as well as on the pipeline. In certain cases mitigating geohazard impacts on the ditch and RoW is essential for ensuring the pipeline’s or the environment’s integrity.

3. Identify and address potential combination

and triggering relationships in cases of collocated geohazards. While mindful of corporate responsibilities to the environment, geohazards should be managed from the pipeline out, as opposed to a purely geotechnical treatment of the hazard. Incorporating pipeline structural capacity in evaluating geohazard probabilities of failure is a key technical consideration, and it becomes important to dierentiate between longitudinal and transverses geohazard/pipeline interaction.

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