What Causes Pipeline Leaks?

What causes pipeline leaks, and why are they still happening?

This is the question we aimed to answer a few years ago before developing the mIQroAware™ system. During our extensive field testing and research, we uncovered data that indicated much could be done to reduce and even eliminate leak incidents.

In this post, we’re going to share with you the dominant causes of pipeline leaks, and, based on our extensive research, how they happen in the field.

Dominant Leak Causes: Data Revealed

#1: Corrosion

·       According to our research, 61% of pipeline leaks are caused by corrosion.

Corrosion happens when the internal or external integrity of the pipeline is corrupted. Most often, metal fragments break free from the internal structure and wash down the pipe.

Our research complements a growing body of evidence that warns of an increase in pipeline corrosion in the immediate future. 

Corrosion increase has been linked to global warming, aging pipelines, pipelines exceeding lifetime replacement periods, lack of maintenance experience by teams on the ground and lax regulation by short-staffed government entities.

#2: Unknown Causes

·       According to our research, 14% of leaking pipelines have no documented cause

When exploring what causes pipeline leaks, we came across an astounding realization. Some 14% of these leaks are caused by unknown factors.

What this truly reveals, is the faulty monitoring and poor data collection practices, currently being used in the midstream oil and gas industry. Too many pipelines are left unmonitored or are inspected manually – which is not enough to ensure safety across thousands of miles.

#3: Human Interaction

·       According to our research, 13% of pipeline leaks happen, due to human interaction or error

With the public and the environment at risk, more human interactions in the form of installation and maintenance are happening along pipeline networks. Human error can be what causes pipeline leaks – as fixes are not done correctly, by properly trained teams.

Canada’s National Energy Board cites failing to follow procedures and improper use of equipment as two growth factors. Incorrect pipe installation results in failures within the first 2 years!

#4: Component Failure

·       According to our research, 9% of leaks occur due to component failure

Component failure happens, when electronic or mechanical components stop working and negatively impact the function of the pipeline, leading to an eventual leak.

Pipeline valves and compressor stations for example, fail for a variety of reasons. Temperature fluctuations, ionizing radiation, mechanical shock or stress impact are a few causes of failure.

Why Are These Causes Still Happening?

With causes like corrosion, the reason why these are an increasing concern - is that most of America’s pipeline system is 50 years old. A large amount of oil and gas is still being transported through highly corroded pipes, which will leak at some point.

Couple this with the demand boom, and the poor installation of new pipes – and what the industry faces, is a collection of old and faulty lines that are prone to leaks. Monitoring systems have to be sophisticated in order to catch these inevitable leaks to keep them from causing damage.

What causes pipeline leaks in our opinion, is a lack of awareness. If a company is aware that their pipeline is about to leak, these leaks can be prevented. That is why we created the mIQroAware™ system to equip companies with the intelligence to eliminate leaks, using reliable predictive technology.