U.S. natural gas output to raise stakes of corrosion control

At north of 350 million people, the third largest country by population, the U.S. is the world's chief consumer of natural gas. But it's also one of its leading producers, and it's poised to grow even bigger in the coming decades, making pipeline corrosion control of primary importance for the economy and the oil industry in particular.

With recoverable gas reserves rising and the pace of growth accelerating, natural gas production in the U.S. has the potential to reach an estimated 8 billion cubic feet in the typical day, a 10 percent uptick from 2017, according to a newly released report from IHS Markit. Indeed, if all goes as anticipated – meaning if the current annual per day production pace remains in place – output could swell an additional 60 percent between now and 2038.

Fracking paved the way for natural gas growth
What's proven to be a veritable wellspring of natural gas recovery is a combination of hydraulic fracturing – more commonly referred to as "fracking" – and horizontal drilling technologies, according to the IHS Markit report, titled "The Shale Gale Turns 10: A Powerful Wind at America's Back." When these processes began, industry experts weren't certain about shale's reliability, presuming that without a new outlet, the U.S. would be forced to import its natural gas in liquefied form from overseas or bordering nations. But what started as a experiment morphed into a reliable thoroughfare of natural gas discovery, with output rising and costs declining due to a supply surfeit.

In fact, IHS Markit anticipates the U.S. to be among the world's leading exporters of liquefied natural gas, with capacity more than doubling in the next five years and perhaps rising tenfold come 2023.

Daniel Yergin, IHS Markit vice chairman who co-authored the report, said the wholesale transformation of the U.S. natural gas industry has been nothing short of extraordinary.

"To say that the 'Shale Gale'—as IHS Markit originally coined it in 2010—has been anything but a veritable revolution would be an understatement," Yergin explained. "It represents a dramatic and largely unanticipated turnaround that dramatically changed both markets and long-term thinking about energy.

Yergin went on to say the benefits of the natural gas boom continue to unfold, evidenced in oil and energy markets as well as the U.S. economy as a collective.

"Natural gas pipeline spending in the US could reach $88 billion by 2022."

U.S. to lead in natural gas pipeline spending
Natural gas is largely useless without a means by which to transport and store it. According to GlobalData, expect the U.S. to be leading spender on natural gas pipelines through 2022, in addition to outlays on other petroleum products. Indeed, expenditures could total $88 billion within the next four years, with Russia forecast to spend $78 billion. Rounding out the top five are Canada, China and Nigeria, respectively. At 40 percent, the lion's share of pipeline spending in the U.S. will be for natural gas, with 31 percent and 24 percent, respectively, apportioned for crude oil and natural gas exploration.

With the possible exception of weather-related natural disasters, pipelines never cease operation. As a result, they have to be maintained on a regular basis to ensure they can perform at peak capacity, void of any avoidable hiccups. Operators keep tabs on maintenance tasks through a self-policing program called the Pipeline Performance Tracking System. Operating under the auspices of the American Petroleum Institute, PPTS participants utilize best practices to protect pipelines from corrosion, which reduces the chances of spillage. Amounts of five gallons or more must be reported to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, an arm of the Transportation Department.

Corrosion control best practices include various maintenance tasks on a regularly occurring schedule, proper installation techniques and implementation of corrosion-resistant technologies.