Pipelines play a critical role in matching the supply of natural gas with demand. Traditionally, most of the country’s gas production came from the western offshore finds, except for a few finds in Assam and Tripura. Pipeline development too has been concentrated in the northern and north-western regions of the country with Gujarat enjoying the largest spread of city gas distribution (CGD) networks. Although production from the Krishna-Godavari basin has prompted the creation of new infrastructure in the peninsular region, the eastern part of the country still remains largely unconnected. To bridge the gap, a number of big-ticket projects such as the Urja Ganga pipeline project, the Barauni-Guwahati gas pipeline project and the northeast natural gas pipeline grid project have been taken up.
Also, advanced technologies are being adopted to maintain the safety of the gas pipeline network. Although the government has laid out an ambitious plan of doubling the pipeline network to provide connectivity to the upcoming CGD networks and pipeline companies have obtained authorisations for a number of pipelines from the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board, progress on the construction of these pipelines has been slow.
Existing pipeline infrastructure and upcoming projects
At present, about 16,788 km of gas transmission pipelines are operational and another 14,239 km are at different stages of development. However, as the existing gas transmission infrastructure is mainly concentrated in western and northern India, measures are now being taken by the government to make gas available in the eastern and southern parts too. To this end, Rounds IX and X of CGD bidding for developing infrastructure in 136 geographical areas (GAs) have been conducted. In addition, projects for laying about 13,500 km of gas transmission pipelines are currently under way in the eastern and north-eastern states. One such project is the Urja Ganga pipeline project, which involves the laying of 2,655 km of gas pipelines across Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal. The project aims to connect the eastern states. The entire project involves an investment of approximately Rs 129 billion and is being developed in a phased manner. In Phase I, the pipeline network in Dobhi, Patna and Barauni in Bihar was laid. It was inaugurated in February 2019. Further, about 1,900 km of pipeline laying work under Phase II is in progress. Under this phase, pipeline networks will be laid in Durgapur and Haldia, and the Bokaro-Ranchi-Angul-Dhamra network will be developed. Work is slated to be completed by December 2020. Another 729 km pipeline from Barauni to Guwahati is being developed as part of the project. The foundation stone for the project was laid in February 2019 and the pipeline is expected to be operational by December 2021. Once completed, the project will benefit about 25 industrial clusters, 40 districts and 2,600 villages in the eastern part of the country.
The government is also executing the Northeast natural gas pipeline grid project for extending the pipeline infrastructure in Barauni to cover the Northeast. As part of the project, 1,656 km of gas pipelines will be laid in eight states – Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim. The total investment requirement for the project is estimated to be Rs 93 billion. To execute the project, Indian Oil Corporation Limited, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited, GAIL (India) Limited, Oil India Limited and Numaligarh Refinery Limited formed a joint venture company – Indradhanush Gas Grid Limited (IGGL) – in July 2018. The foundation stone for the project was laid in February 2019 and the preliminary activities are currently in progress. Another major pipeline project is the Kochi-Koottanad-Bengaluru-Mangaluru gas pipeline (Phase II), which involves the laying of an 872 km long pipeline at an estimated cost of Rs 51.5 billion. The project, currently under implementation, is expected to be completed by mid-2019. Besides, the Ennore-Thiruvallur-Bengaluru-Puducherry-Nagapattinam-Madurai-Tuticorin pipeline, spanning 1,385 km in length, is being developed at an investment of Rs 44.97 billion.
Pipeline integrity and safety management techniques
The integrity of pipelines is a basic concern for pipeline operators, and therefore, the ability to detect anomalies early on is critical. As underground gas pipelines are laid adjacent to other underground utilities such as water and sewage pipelines and telecom wires, they are exposed to damage caused by third-party activities. Thus, operators need to deploy technologies to detect such anomalies and other damages due to corrosion, erosion or milling; leakages due to material failure or wrong gaskets (on customer premises only); valve leaks due to stem seal failure or assembly failure; and damage from natural disasters.
Over the years, a number of new and advanced technologies have been introduced by vendors to address the concerns of pipeline integrity and safety. One such advanced technology introduced by ESRI, a global supplier of geographic information system (GIS) software, is ArcGIS. The integrated digital solution uses GIS-based technology to map the pipeline network and creates visualisation of the CGD infrastructure. Data on pipeline leakage and corrosion is captured through sensors installed on the pipelines. The generated data stream enables operators to track gas pipelines on a real-time basis. Besides, operators can analyse the pattern of tampering/ pilferage in pipelines through the data analytics feature and take informed decisions. The platform also has a mobile interface which can be used by field staff for quick information sharing that can enable workflow automation for effective and efficient management. Further, mobile applications such as Collector can be used to register leakage complaints. These digital solutions are being adopted by utilities to reduce instances of pipeline leakages.
Another technology provider, SV Gas Solutions Private Limited has introduced the Zappmulti-tubes coils used in the CGD infrastructure to ensure pipeline integrity. The key feature of these multi-tube coils is that they are twisted stainless steel tubes coated with plastic sheathing that makes them maintenance-free. The plastic coating keeps the pipeline well protected against mechanical damage and abrasion, thereby reducing the cost of maintenance. Also, they are easy to install in long units and save over 50 per cent of the cost involved in straight tube installations. Besides, other safety measures such as fire suppression systems are also being installed by industrial and commercial users. Helium leak detection tests, burst pressure tests, polyethylene (PE)-coated pipelines, and isolation valves are used to reduce the possibility of hazards.
Given the number of domestic gas pipeline projects at various stages of implementation and the expansion of city gas networks, natural gas infrastructure will witness significant development in the near future. However, to boost pipeline network expansion, supporting measures in the form of reasonable post-tax return assurance and accelerated depreciation for gas pipeline infrastructure projects are required. At the same time, operators need to be vigilant and use high quality materials such as PE-coated pipelines and trenchless technology for laying pipelines, keeping in mind the safety criteria. Also, proper pipeline integrity management systems have to be adopted, as this will not only extend the life of the existing pipelines but also help in preventing damage in the future. n
Based on presentations by Ashu Singhal, Chief General Manager (CSPA), GAIL (India) Limited; Kagan Dagdeviren, Co-Founder, Daggaz; Thomas Domke, Sales Manager, Energy and Transportation, Zapp Materials Engineering; and Dr Pradeep N., Industry Head (Utilities, Transport and Mining), Esri India Technologies, at a recent India Infrastructure conference