Polyurethane and the pipeline construction industry have long been tied together. In fact, the oil and gas industry was one of the first to adopt polyurethane as a workhorse material that could seemingly do it all. It still occupies lofty status in the field, and is trusted in some capacity during every step of the pipeline building process. The reasons why are clear to see – polyurethane’s multifaceted durability is unlike any other material’s, and it can be manufactured both quickly and inexpensively. There is, in short, no material that can provide the oil and gas industry what polyurethane offers.
Pigs, Pile Drivers and Platforms
Polyurethane, above all else, is versatile. It can be cast in an incredible variety of components, from tiny scrapers to enormous rollers. It can be manufactured into tough, rigid elastomers or into pliable, soft foams. With a base chemical formula that can be added onto in a variety of ways, there is a form of polyurethane for nearly every project. It’s no different in the pipeline construction industry, where the demands are tough and varied. Consider what polyurethane is asked to do for industry professionals:
- Handle stretches of steel pipe that are long and heavy. A single piece of oil and gas pipeline may weigh several tons and span 10 yards or more to a joint. That’s a lot of bulk to handle, and it has to be done precisely so that pipeline construction personnel can properly apply joints and prepare the pipeline for subsea or high-pressure environments. Maintaining that control is done with the use of huge polyurethane rollers that grip and center the pipeline as it is moved through each station. Polyurethane can be fabricated with low or high friction capabilities, but will not damage the pipeline in either setting. Polyurethane rollers are typically used to handle pipeline from the cargo barge to the laying barge, and may take on many forms, such as hourglass rollers or roller cradles, which are installed on powered lifters, like cranes.
- Withstand extreme compression forces. A single wellhead may extend thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface, or miles below the water’s surface for subsea operations. Ensuring wellhead stability from top to bottom takes a powerful pile driving mechanism. Pile driving is the most reliable, controllable, and cost-effective approach to securing pipeline, but it can also damage the pipe itself, or its many joints. To prevent this disaster from occurring, pipeline operations use thick cushions of material between the pipe and the pile driver to absorb and direct some of the incoming compressive forces. Oil and gas companies have found that polyurethane is an ideal choice for this purpose, as it provides unmatched resistance to impact forces. Polyurethane is also much more resilient than plastics, metals or rubbers, so it will retain its shape even after repeated blows.
- Resist intense temperatures and corrosion. The oil and gas industry is one of the few that need materials that offer comprehensive resistance. This includes resistance to high temperatures, fluids and corrosive substances. For example, pipeline pigs, which use scrapers to remove debris from lines, were once made from rubber components. However, oil and gas companies soon found that though rubber could take the pressure and wear, it couldn’t handle the corrosive effects of hydrocarbon exposure. Polyurethane can, and resists a variety of sour gases, oils and other fluids that are common to the oil and gas industry.
- Maintain wellhead safety, even after the well is no longer in use. During line construction, joints are at regular intervals to extend the line’s length. These joints are susceptible to fluid infiltration, and have long been a focus of efforts to improve industry technology. For decades, sandbags were relied on to shield against moisture, but sandbags require a lot of effort to fill, are heavy and stress the environment during filling and transport. Polyurethane foams have been a major improvement in this regard, as they can be applied directly to the joint, are extremely lightweight, further stabilize the joint’s integrity, and provide superior resistance to corrosive effects, as well as impermeability against fluids. Polyurethane foams can be applied to a joint in a matter of moments in safe fashion, reducing construction times considerably. Polyurethane elastomer caps are the material of choice to cap off abandoned wellheads, and are relied on for decades of service in this capacity.
The oil and gas industry was one of the first to adopt polyurethane into its operations, and in the decades since, polyurethane has rewarded these companies with unmatched reliability and versatility.