Types of Pipelines

Types of Pipelines

If you want to get a job done correctly, you need to find the right tool. This is especially true when it comes to building effective pipelines. To the untrained eye, all pipelines may look the same, but mismatched pipes can completely derail a project. That’s why it’s important to know about the different types of pipelines and what sets them apart.

Pipelines can be divided into three main categories:

  • Gathering pipelines
  • Transportation pipelines
  • Distribution pipelines

These pipelines focus on the extraction of materials, their long-term transport, and final delivery. Although this is just scratching the surface of the topic, to understand pipelines it’s worth looking at each type in depth.

Types of Pipelines

Gathering pipelines

  • Short length
  • Small diameter
  • Variable pressure

Hardly any natural resource are ready to be used as soon as they are extracted. Crude oil, natural gas, and even river water all need to undergo some processing before they can be delivered to their final consumers. Gathering pipelines take the resources between the point of extraction, and the relevant processing location.

Gathering pipelines tend to be small in diameter and short in length. This is because it’s important to minimize the time between the extraction of resources, and the initial processing steps. Most of the time, the initial gathering pipelines are less than 1,000 feet in length.

This doesn’t mean that gathering pipelines necessarily lead to the location where the resource will reach its final stage of treatment and refinement; it simply leads to the initial treatment facility. Different resources might receive additional treatments after further transportation via transportation pipelines.

Gathering Pipelines

Transportation Pipelines

  • Long length
  • Large diameter
  • High pressure

While all pipelines are designed to transport materials over some distance, transportation pipelines traditionally handle the “long hauls.” Transportations might run between cities, but they can stretch much farther. You’ll find transportation pipelines running between countries and across continents.

Transportation pipelines tend to be made using the largest pipes. The Pipeline Safety Trust defines transportation pipelines as being between “6-48 inches in diameter.” In addition to dealing with large quantities of materials, these pipelines often work at high-pressure levels. PS Trust notes that gas transport pipelines operate at between “200 – 1500 psi,” but the pressure level will vary depending on the material being transported.

Safety is a major concern with every type of pipeline, but it’s especially important and challenging with transportation pipelines. This is because of their size, length, and pressure. Even a small hole can lead to a huge spill, and even large spills can take serious time to find and address. A line that stretches for hundreds of miles, can take hours, or even days, to find the leak after the first signs of trouble. This is why it’s so important to make sure that transport pipelines are built correctly. Poor construction can lead to disastrous results.

Distribution Pipelines

Distribution Pipelines

  • Medium length
  • Small diameter
  • Low pressure

After a resource has made the long journey from its initial production site to a treatment facility, and then onward to the final city where it will be used, there is only one pipeline left. The distribution pipeline is comparable to the gathering pipeline in that it is relatively small in diameter and short compared to transportation lines. This line is the one that delivers resources to their final industrial, commercial, and residential destinations. This type of pipeline is the type that most people are familiar with. Distribution pipelines are used to bring fresh water and natural gas to every home.

You can see a distribution pipeline in action by looking at our University of Northern Colorado piping replacement project. Water had already made it through the initial gathering and transportation steps, but it needed to be delivered safely to the University so that students and faculty could make use of it. Within 16 months Gracon replaced 6,000 linear feet of custom-furbished steel piping to ensure that the university had safe, usable, and reliable hot water.

Resources can travel thousands of miles between the initial point of extraction, but when it comes to piping, every inch matters. A tiny hole in the last 0.1% of the pipeline between extraction and final use can mean the difference between smooth sailing and disaster. Therefore, it’s important that no corners are cut at any stage of pipeline construction, from extraction to distribution.

A Pipeline for Every Task

Now that we’ve looked at the major pipeline types it helps to put all the pieces together. You can see how all these pipelines work together in the context of natural gas distribution by looking at this diagram from Pipeline Safety Trust:

Pipeline DiagramAs you can see, all pipelines work together to achieve their ultimate goal. When it comes to pipelines there is no one type which is more important than the rest. Every type of pipeline has a part to play to keep society running, which is why it’s important to work with people who understand every type of pipeline.

At Gracon, we’ve worked with just about every variety of piping system imaginable. We’ve had 36 years of experience working on hundreds of projects across 30 different states. From gathering to distribution, we’ve kept the lifeblood of American industry pumping across this great country.