Virtual Pipelines – Creatively Expanding our Natural Gas Infrastructure
S&S Technical has been approached recently by a number of clients looking to creatively expand natural gas infrastructure. While there are roughly 2 million miles of natural gas distribution mains and pipelines and about 321,000 miles of gas transmission and gathering pipelines these lines do not reach every place of need. As industrial development outpaces new pipeline infrastructure the need for new ways to connect the pipelines to the customers has created an emerging market.
One of the ways this gap can be filled is by using high pressure natural gas tube trailers. Gas can be pulled from existing lines and compressed into the trailers where it can be transported over the road to clients. Because the trailers are able to accept gas at high pressure (3600-4000 psi), a relatively large volume can be safely transported and stored. This process has been used on a smaller scale by municipalities when dealing with isolated outages from pipeline damage or maintenance. Now, we are looking at this on a much larger scale.
To make this process work, there are a couple of necessary systems: the compressor skid at the source pipeline and the reducing station at the facility receiving the gas. The reducing station would be a typical system when receiving gas from high pressure distribution lines and is not new to the market. The compressor system is the new piece of this process. Smaller CNG machines are used by the municipalities as I noted above, but these machines are not designed to handle the much high inlet pressures and fill at lower rates. Compressor systems designed for this new application will be much larger and provide significantly higher flow rates. A recent project we worked on required a 500hp Arrow VRS4-2 compressor. This system was designed to take pipeline gas at 1000 psig and fill the trailers to 4000 psig at 4.2 MMSCFD.
Another advantage to this design process is mobility. These systems can be skid mounted, allowing the owners to move them to different locations as the needs change. If new pipeline infrastructure develops in a particular area, the skids can be transported to a new location of need relatively easily.
Given the sheer volume of natural gas resources in the U.S. it is likely new infrastructure will be developed and utilized in time. However, until it is, there will need to be a means to deliver this valuable natural resource to points of needs safely and efficiently.