With Two Critical Pipelines Down and Millions of Dollars on the Line, Pemex Looks to FlexSteel for an Emergency Solution
In the wake of Hurricane Ingrid’s torrential downpours, a series of devastating mudslides in the remote and mountainous region of Sierra Norte de Puebla, Mexico washed out two extremely critical pipelines for Pemex Refinación - the Refining and Refined Products Transport Division of Pemex. The first was a 14-inch carbon steel pipeline that transported 80,000 barrels of gasoline per day to help support the 160,000 barrels that Mexico City’s twenty million residents consume daily. The second was a 24-inch carbon steel pipeline that supplied 50,000 barrels of crude oil per day to the Tula and Salamanca Refineries, which together process a total of 482,000 barrels of crude oil daily. Pemex was spending over $1 million for transportation costs each day these two pipelines were not in operation. And to make matters worse, Mexico City was just a few days away from running out of its supply of gasoline, while the Tula and Salamanca Refineries were close to reaching minimum critical storage levels. Gaining access to the damaged pipelines would prove to be complicated for construction crews as well. In addition to the remote location and mountainous terrain, the heavily saturated washed out slopes created very difficult angles for operating heavy equipment. Finally, the damaged pipeline was located near to the indigenous population, so a safe and environmentally responsible solution was vital.
Pemex needed to find the fastest possible method to restore the damaged pipelines, but couldn’t afford to sacrifice operational performance. It would have taken approximately 60 – 90 days to repair and reconstruct the two carbon steel pipelines, and would have required a minimum of 50 workers per line. To minimize downtime in production during construction, Pemex would have also needed to continue to use tanker trucks to transport the crude oil and gasoline – a very expensive process at this scale. They quickly realized that they needed to find a way to install pipelines to bypass the damaged sections. FlexSteel was identified as the perfect solution for this unique project because it is extremely fast to install, durable enough to handle direct installation in the challenging terrain, and because it could handle both the flow rate and pressure requirements of the original carbon steel pipelines. Pemex chose to install four 6-inch, 1,500-psi lines, that were 342 meters each. Two of the lines would be used to transport the 80,000 BPD of gasoline, and the other two would be used to transport the 50,000 BPD of crude oil. Stainless steel flanged connecters were used to connect with ANSI 600 carbon steel flanges at each end of the four bypasses. Because of the steep and washed out terrain, an innovative installation method was required. A steel wire cable was installed across the slide zone and an excavator was used to pull each pipe segment individually along the surface of the terrain. Pulleys were used to make turns easier and to guide the pipe along the desired path.
Working around the clock, FlexSteel’s authorized Distributor in Mexico, Industrias de Tuberías Flexibles S. de R.L. de C.V. (ITF), was able to complete the entire project in just four days. And as the pipe reels were moved into place, only four hours were required to install each bypass line. ITF completed the installation with a small crew of eight workers and support from Pemex, drastically less than the 100 crew members that would have been required to install/repair the carbon steel pipelines. Since the project’s completion, Pemex has been extremely happy with the reliability and performance of FlexSteel’s pipelines. After commissioning the four bypass lines into operation, Pemex Engineers were amazed that there was no vibration, movement, or appreciable changes in pressure drop – even with 40,000 BPD of gasoline or 25,000 BPD of crude oil moving through each line. Because of the unstable condition of the project site and the outstanding performance of the new pipelines, Pemex is now considering maintaining the four bypass lines installed as a permanent installation - which will help to conserve operation reliability. In total, it’s estimated that FlexSteel was able to save Pemex approximately $50 million on the project by rapidly restoring operations and eliminating the need to use trucks to haul the crude oil and gasoline. Upon completion of the installation, Pemex was able to alleviate the critical storage levels at their Tula and Salamanca Refineries, while also resupplying Mexico City with gasoline. Thrilled with the success of this project, Pemex Refinación plans to use FlexSteel’s 2-inch through 8-inch pipelines to meet future project needs.